Skip to main content

Full text of "A_Short_History_Of_England"

See other formats


THE 

NEW PHOENIX 

LIBRARY 

* 

A Short History of England 



, 

L'\" * 
1 : 

^"*'*>-St~ 



^ 




A Short History of England 
G. K. CHESTERTON 




THE NEW PHOENIX 



LIBRARY 



Published by 

CHATTO & WIKDUS 

LONDON 

* 

CLARKE, IRWIN & CO. LTD. 
TOROXTO 



First paHished 1917 
Rejwinted 1917 (4 times), 1918 (twice). 

1920, 1924, 1930, 1938 

First issued ia this Library 1951 

All Rights Reserved 



INTRODUCTION TO A NEW EDITION 

WHEN I was invited, some years ago, to write 
the little volume that bears the title of cc A Short 
History of England," I was well aware that there 
would seem to be a certain impudence in accept- 
ing the challenge ; though in reality the title is 
more impudent than the book. 1 had intended 
it to be called " A Sketch of English History," 
or "An Essay on English History," though I 
did not think either the tide or the book a 
worthy subject for solemn dispute. But the 
task as I conceived it involved no swagger of 
sham scholarship. The neglected side of English 
history does not consist of little things which the 
learned obscurely conceal, but rather of large 
things which the learned frequently ignore* 
Much of it can be learned, not only without any 
prodigy of book-learning, but practically without 
any books. It can be learned from large and 
obvious things, like the size of Gothic churches 
or the style of classical country houses. It needs 
no very abstruse learning to know that a squire 
is not an abbot, while his house is called an 
abbey. It needs no very elaborate logic to 
deduce that a place called a Common was common 
land. The difference is not about the facts but 
about the importance of the facts ; and that must 
be left to a general criticism of the general view, 
In my original introduction I disclaimed any 
particular historical learning, and it would not 
be surprising if I fell into particular historical 
errors. Curiously enough, however, most of 



INTRODUCTION TO A NEW EDITION 

the errors I have since discovered were not con- 
cerned with things I did not know, but with 
things I did know. An interesting psychological 
essay might be written about such mistakes ; the 
mistakes that are made in spite of knowledge. 
For instance, I find that I referred to King John 
as the second son of Henry of Anjou. It is 
impossible for anybody who ever read the 
ordinary nursery histories, with their royal 
anecdotes, not to know quite well that Henry 
the Second had more sons than he knew what to 
do with, so to speak, and that John was the 
youngest. Everybody knows the story of his 
father's bitterness over the desertion of that 
unsatisfactory Benjamin. But the context will 
probably show that I was not counting sons but 
counting kings ; and meant that he was the 
second son to succeed. There are other errors 
of the sort equally easy to make and easy to 
correct. On page 129 "widow of Henry V." 
ought obviously to be " widow of Henry VI.," 
or rather <c wife of Henry VI." ; for in contra- 
diction of the creed of Mr. Weller she was not 
formidable through being a widow. But I 
vaguely thought of her as a widow, or at least 
a mourning woman left alone with her child, 
because my memory rested at the moment on 
an old story of her solitary adventure with the 
little prince. I found a misprint in the Bene- 
dictine anecdote : obviously it should be " Fran- 
ciscere " or " Franciscet," if it be worth while to 
conjugate a verb that does not exist, in the mouth 

vi 



INTRODUCTION TO A NEW EDITION 

of a man talking dog Latin. There are probably 
only too many mistakes that are not misprints. 
I am told that I have attributed one remark 
about the sun to Sir Thomas More which was 
really made by one of his companions in the 
same school of martyrs ; and this is possible, for 
1 remember reading all the stories in the same 
collection of martyrological anecdotes. These 
are the more doubtful details that have come to 
my notice ; I apologise for them very heartily, 
but they are rather fewer than I feared. 

I say I apologise for any such details ; because 
I have no apology at all to offer about the general 
thesis or design. Everything I have since learned, 
especially from more learned people, has led me 
to think that 1 was much more right than I 
thought 1 was. Such amateur history must be 
a little like guesswork ; but 1 have almost a 
retrospective shiver at my own good luck in 
having so often guessed right I could now 
give a great deal more evidence than I possessed 
then of the general propositions ; that mediaeval 
England possessed many democratic ideals ; that 
it might have moved and was even moving 
towards a more really democratic progress ; that 
it was thwarted by the oligarchy which had grown 
too strong under the too fitful and personal 
authority of the kings ; that is was oligarchy that 
triumphed in the sixteenth and seventeenth 
centuries, trampling out the last popular elements 
in the colleges, the guilds, the law and the holding 
of the land ; and that the aristocracy is now 

vii 



INTRODUCTION TO A NEW EDITION 

changing to a plutocracy without having really 
given the people a glimpse of the popular vision 
without which they perish* I have not only 
grown more convinced of the truth of this general 
view, but I have lived to see the world grow 
more and more disposed to consider it. When 
this book was written, for instance, all that world 
which regarded Mr. Bernard Shaw as the supreme 
modernist regarded me as a sort of moonstruck 
antiquary for being a medievalist. -Yet I only 
praised the best of medievalism, and especially 
the morning of medievalism ; I definitely ad- 
mitted that in its last twilight were many monsters: 
and I particularly instanced the perverted zeal of 
the priests who persecuted St. Joan. I have lived 
to see Bernard Shaw the Modernist complete the 
case for Chesterton the Medievalist. I have 
lived to see him, of all men, proving that there 
was something to be said even for the monsters 
of medievalism. Where I defended its glory he 
has defended even its decay ; and defended it 
triumphantly. For he has defended it on the 
fundamental ground ; the fact that has to be 
grasped by everybody before he is fit to discuss 
the question ; the fact that the medieval men's 
vision of Christendom was something much 
larger than our empires and races and vested 
interests ; and that where our best can only die 
gloriously for the flag, they could commit even 
their crimes for the Cross. 

In becoming more and more solidly certain 
of such a thing as a truth, one loses the temptation 



INTRODUCTION TO A NEW EDITION 

to exaggerate it as a challenge. A fair statement 
of the transition from the Middle Ages would, 
I think, be something like this. With that 
change the world improved in many things, but 
not in the one thing needful ; the one thing that 
can make them all one. It did not become more 
universal ; it became much less universal ; for it 
only picked up and polished the fragments of a 
shattered universe. In other words, the improve- 
ment was the sort of improvement which is seen 
when medicine becomes purely specialist or foot- 
ball becomes purely professional The mediaeval 
man was really ruder and more ineffective in 
many ways ; but his outlook on life was really 
larger and more human. Thus the revival of 
learning was not an extension of learning ; the 
public schools ceased to be popular schools. 
More gentlemen learnt Greek, but fewer peasants 
learnt Latin. Thus the Reformation intensified 
religion into sects ; but it was no longer possible 
to reconcile men through religion. Thus in the 
drama, it is obvious that greater plays were pro- 
duced, but fewer people produced them. Shake- 
speare emerged to make fun of Snout and Snug 
producing a play ; but there was something to 
be said for the old guild theatre in which all the 
Snouts and Snugs could produce plays. Litera- 
ture grew more finished because language grew 
more finished ; but for good and evil it was 
narrowed into national languages ; there was no 
longer a really European Esperanto. In a 
hundred ways human beings had lost the concep- 

ix 



INTRODUCTION TO A NEW EDITION 

tion of a complete humanity. The application 
of this to English history can easily be made by 
an example in English literature. One of the 
very greatest and most human geniuses of the 
not very human seventeenth century was John 
Bunyan. His work is rightly regarded as a 
model and monument of completed English. 
But compare for one moment the moral atmo- 
sphere of the allegorist who wrote the Pilgrim's 
Progress with that of the allegorist who wrote 
Piers Plowman. They are both symbolical 
pageants of human life under the light of religion. 
Nobody will deny that the Puritan masterpiece 
is a more complete and coherent work of art ; 
for the national language and literature have 
become more complete and coherent. But if it 
comes to broadmindedness, to brotherhood, to a 
survey of the mighty world, of every class,- every 
problem, every political ideal, then Bunyan is 
burrowing in a hole while Langland is standing 
on a mountain. It is very right and even very 
glorious that Bunyan's statue at Bedford should 
u stand facing the place where he lay in gaol " ; 
but there stands no statue on the Malvern 
Heights, where the great tribune of the Middle 
Ages saw his vision of justice for the whole 
world ; the corporate common people gathered 
into one gigantic figure, labouring through clouds 
and connisions : till, in the last phase of mystery, 
he turns on us the terrible face of Christ. 

G. K. CHESTERTON. 



CONTENTS 



I. INTRODUCTION * 

II. THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN 6 

IIL THE AGE OF LEGENDS 19 

IV. THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS 30 

V. ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN KINGS 43 

VI. THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES 58 

VII. THE PROBLEM OF THE PLANTAGENETS 71 

VIII. THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 86 

IX. NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH WARS 104 

X. THE WAR OF THE USURPERS 11$ 

XI. THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 133 

XII. SPAIN AND THE SCHISM OF NATIONS 151 

XIII. THE AGE OF THE PURITANS l6j 

XIV. THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS 1 79 
XV. THE WAR WITH THE GREAT REPUBLICS 195 

XVI, ARISTOCRACY AND THE DISCONTENTS 209 

XVII. THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 223 
XVIII. CONCLUSION 238 



A SHORT HISTORY OF 
ENGLAND 

I 
INTRODUCTION 

IT will be very reasonably asked why I should 
consent, though upon a sort of challenge, to 
write even a popular essay in English history, 
who make no pretence to particular scholarship 
and am merely a member of the public. The 
answer is that I know just enough to know one 
thing : that a history from the standpoint of a 
member of the public has not been written. 
What we call the popular histories should rather 
be called the anti-popular histories. They are all, 
nearly without exception, written against the 
people ; and in them the populace is either ignored 
or elaborately proved to have been wrong. It is 
true that Green called his book " A Short History 
of the English People " ; but he seems to have 
thought it too short for the people to be properly 
mentioned. For instance, he calls one very large 
part of his story "Puritan England. But 
England never was Puritan. It would have been 
almost as unfair to call the rise of Henry of 

i 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Navarre "Puritan France." And some of our 
extreme Whig historians would have been pretty 
nearly capable of calling the campaign of Wexford 
and Drogheda "Puritan Ireland/' 

But it is especially in the matter of the Middle 
Ages that the popular histories trample upon the 
popular traditions. In this respect there is an 
almost comic contrast between the general in- 
formation provided about England in the last 
two or three centuries, in which its present indus- 
trial system was being built up, and the general 
information given about the preceding centuries, 
which we call broadly mediaeval. Of the sort of 
waxwork history which is thought sufficient for 
the side-show of the age of abbots and crusaders, 
a small instance will be sufficient. A popular 
Encyclopaedia appeared some years ago, professing 
among other things to teach English History to 
the masses ; and in this I came upon a series of 
pictures of the English kings. No one could 
expect them to be afi authentic ; but the interest 
attached to those that were necessarily imaginary. 
There is much vivid material in contemporary 
literature for portraits of men like Henry II. or 
Edward I. ; but this did not seem to have been 
found, or even sought. And wandering to the 
image that stood for Stephen of Blois, my eye 
was staggered by a gentleman with one of those 
helmets with steel brims curved like a crescent, 
which went with the age of ruffs and trunk-hose. 
I am tempted to suspect that the head was that 
of a halberdier at some such scene as the execution 



INTRODUCTION 

of Mary Queen of Scots* But he had a helmet ; 
and helmets were mediaeval ; and any old helmet 
was good enough for Stephen. 

Now suppose the readers of that work of 
reference had looked for the portrait of Charles I. 
and found the head of a policeman. Suppose it 
had been taken, modern helmet and all, out of 
some snapshot in the Daily Sketch of the arrest of 
Mrs. Pankhurst I think we may go so far as 
to say that the readers would have refused to 
accept it as a lifelike portrait of Charles I. They 
would have formed the opinion that there must 
be some mistake. Yet the time that elapsed 
between Stephen 'and Mary was much longer 
than the time that has elapsed between Charles 
and ourselves. The revolution in human society 
between the first of the Crusades and the last of 
the Tudors was immeasurably more colossal and 
complete than any change between Charles and 
ourselves. And, above all, that revolution should 
be the first thing and the final thing in anything 
calling itself a popular history. For it is the 
story of how our populace gained great things, 
but to-day has lost everything. 

Now I will modestly maintain that I know 
more about English history than this ; and that 
I have as much right to make a popular summary 
of it as the gentleman who made the crusader 
and the halberdier change hats. But the curious 
and arresting thing about the neglect, one might 
say the omission, of mediaeval civilization in such 
histories as this, lies in the fact I have already 

3 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

noted. It is exactly the popular story that is left 
out of the popular history. For instance, even 
a working man, a carpenter or cooper or brick- 
layer, has been taught about the Great Charter, 
as something like the Great Auk, save that its 
almost monstrous solitude came from being be- 
fore its time instead of after. He was not taught 
that the whole stuff of the Middle Ages was stiff 
with the parchment of charters ; that society was 
once a system of charters, and of a kind much 
more interesting to him. The carpenter heard of 
one charter given to barons, and chiefly in the 
interest of barons ; the carpenter did not hear of 
any of the charters given to carpenters, to coopers, 
to all the people like himself. Or, to take another 
instance, the boy and girl reading the stock 
simplified histories of the schools practically never 
heard of such a thing as a burgher, until he 
appears in a shirt with a noose round his neck. 
They certainly do not imagine anything of what 
he meant in the Middle Ages. And Victorian 
shopkeepers did not conceive themselves as taking 
part in any such romance as the adventure of 
Courtrai, where the mediaeval shopkeepers more 
than won their spurs for they won the spurs of 
their enemies. 

I have a very simple motive and excuse for 
telling the little I know of this true tale. I have 
met in my wanderings a man brought up in the 
lower quarters of a great house, fed mainly on its 
leavings and burdened mostly with its labours. 
I know that his complaints are stilled, and his 

4 



INTRODUCTION 

status justified, by a story that is told to him. 
It is about how his grandfather was a chimpanzee 
and his father a wild man of the woods, caught 
by hunters and tamed into something like intelli- 
gence. In the light of this, he may well be thank- 
ful for the almost human life that he enjoys ; 
and may be content with the hope of leaving 
behind him a yet more evolved animal. Strangely 
enough, the calling of this story by the sacred 
name of Progress ceased to satisfy me when I 
began to suspect (and to discover) that it is not 
true. I know by now enough at least of his 
origin to know that he was not evolved, but 
simply disinherited. His family tree is not a 
monkey tree, save in the sense, that no monkey 
could have climbed it ; rather it is like that tree 
torn up by the roots and named " Dedischado," 
on the shield of the unknown knight. 



II 

THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN 

THE land on which we live once had the highly 
poetic privilege of being the end of the world. 
Its extremity was ultima Thuk, the other end 
of nowhere. When these islands, lost in a night 
of northern seas, were lit up at last by the long 
searchlights of Rome, it was felt that the remotest 
remnant of things had been touched ; and more 
for pride than possession. 

The sentiment was not unsuitable, even in 
geography. About these realms upon the edge 
of everything there was really something that can 
only be called edgy. Britain is not so much an 
island as an archipelago ; it is at least a labyrinth 
of peninsulas. In few of the kindred countries 
can one so easily and so strangely find sea in the 
fields or fields in the sea. The great rivers seem 
not only to meet in the ocean, but barely to miss 
each other in the hills : the whole land, though 
low as a whole, leans towards the west in shoulder- 
ing mountains ; and a prehistoric tradition has 
taught it to look towards the sunset for islands 
yet dreamier than its own. The islanders are 
of a kind with their islands. Different as are 



THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN 

the nations into which they are now divided, the 
Scots, the English, the Irish, the Welsh of the 
western uplands, have something altogether dif- 
ferent from the humdrum docility of the inland 
Germans, or from the bon sens franfais which can 
be at will trenchant or trite. There is something 
common to all the Britons, which even Acts of 
Union have not torn asunder. The nearest name 
for it is insecurity, something fitting in men walking 
on cliffs and the verge of things. Adventure, a 
lonely taste in liberty, a humour without wit, 
perplex their critics and perplex themselves. 
Their souls are fretted like their coasts. They 
have an embarrassment, noted by all foreigners : 
it is expressed, perhaps, in the Irish by a con- 
fusion of speech and in the English by a confusion 
of thought. For the Irish bull is a license with 
the symbol of language. But Bull's own bull, 
the English bull, is " a dumb ox of thought " ; 
a standing mystification in the mind. There is 
something double in the thoughts as of the soul 
mirrored in many waters. Of all peoples they 
are least attached to the purely classical ; the 
imperial plainness which the French do finely 
and the Germans coarsely, but the Britons hardly 
at all. They are constantly colonists and emi- 
grants ; they have the name of being at home in 
every country. But they are in exile in their 
own country. They are torn between love of 
home and love of something else ; of which the 
sea may be the explanation or may be only the 
symbol. It is also found in a nameless nursery 

7 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

rhyme -which is the finest line in English literature 
and the dumb refrain of all English poems 
Over the hills and far away/' 

The great rationalist hero who first conquered 
Britain, whether or no he was the detached demi- 
god of "Caesar and Cleopatra," was certainly a 
Latin of the Latins, and described these isknds 
when he found them with all the curt positivism 
of his pen of steel. But even Julius Caesar's 
brief account of the Britons leaves on us some- 
thing of this mystery, which is more than igno- 
rance of fact. They were apparently ruled by 
that terrible thing, a pagan priesthood. Stones 
now shapeless yet arranged in symbolic shapes 
bear witness to the order and labour of those that 
lifted them. Their worship was probably Nature- 
worship ; and while such a basis may count for 
something in the elemental quality that has always 
soaked the island arts, the collision between it 
and the tolerant Empire suggests the presence of 
something which generally grows out of Nature- 
worship I mean the unnatural. But upon nearly 
all the matters of modern controversy Caesar is 
silent. He is silent about whether the language 
was cc Celtic " ; and some of the place-names 
have even given rise to a suggestion that, in 
parts at least, it was already Teutonic. I am not 
capable of pronouncing upon the truth of such 
speculations, but I am of pronouncing upon their 
importance ; at least, to my own very simple 
purpose. And indeed their importance has been 
very much exaggerated. Caesar professed to give 

8 



THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN 

no more than the glimpse of a traveller ; but 
when, some considerable time after, the Romans 
returned and turned Britain into a Roman pro- 
vince, they continued to display a singular in- 
difference to questions that have excited so many 
professors. What they cared about was getting 
and giving in Britain what they had got and given 
in Gaul. We do not know whether the Britons 
then, or for that matter the Britons now, were 
Iberian or Cymric or Teutonic. We do know 
that in a short time they were Roman. 

Every now and then there is discovered in 
modern England some fragment such as a 
Roman pavement. Such Roman antiquities rather 
diminish than increase the Roman reality. They 
make something seem distant which is still very 
near, and something seem dead that is still alive. 
It is like writing a man's epitaph on his front 
door. The epitaph would probably be a com- 
pliment, but hardly a personal introduction. The 
important thing about France and England is not 
that they have Roman remains. They are Roman 
remains. In truth they are not so much remains 
as relics ; for they are still working miracles. 
A row of poplars is a more Roman relic than 
a row of pillars. Nearly all that we call the 
works of nature have but grown like fiingoids 
upon this original work of man ; and our woods 
are mosses on the bones of a giant. Under the 
seed of our harvests and the roots of our trees 
is a foundation of which the fragments of tile and 
brick are but emblems ; and under the colours 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

of our wildest flowers are the colours of a Roman 
pavement. 



Britain was directly Roraan for 
hundred years ; longer than sEe has Seen Pro- 
tesfanti*and very much longer than she has been 
industrial. What was meant by being Roman it 
is necessary in a few lines to say, or no sense can 
be made of what happened after, especially of 
what happened immediately after. Being Roman 
did not mean being subject, in the sense that one 
savage tribe will enslave another, or in the sense 
that the cynical politicians of recent times watched 
with a horrible hopefulness for the evanescence of 
the Irish. Both conquerors and conquered were 
heathen, and both had the institutions which 
seem to us to give an inhumanity to heathen- 
ism : the triumph, the slave-market, the lack of 
all the sensitive nationalism of modern history. 
But the Roman Empire did not destroy nations ; 
if anything, it created them. Britons were not 
originally proud of being Britons ; but they were 
proud of being Romans. The Roman steel was 
at least as much a magnet as a sword. In truth it 
was rather a round mirror of steel, in which every 
people came to see itself. For Rome as Rome 
the very smallness of the civic origin was a warrant 
for the largeness of the civic experiment. Rome 
itself obviously could not rule the world, any 
more than Rutland. I mean it could not rule 
the other races as the Spartans ruled the Helots 
or the Americans ruled the negroes. A machine 
so huge had to be human ; it had to have a 

10 



' 






THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN j 

handle that fitted any man's hand. The Rdp^i 
Empire necessarily became less Roman a^iff 
became more of an Empire ; until not very long 
after Rome gave conquerors to Britain, Britain 
was giving emperors to Rome. Out of Britain, 
as the Britons boasted, came at length the great 
Empress Helena, who was the mother of Con- 
stantine. And it was Constantine, as all men 
know, who first nailed up that proclamation 
which all after generations have in truth been 
struggling either to protect or to tear down. 

About that revolution no man has ever been 
able to be impartial. The present writer will 
make no idle pretence of being so. That it was 
the most revolutionary of all revolutions, since it 
identified the dead body on a servile gibbet with 
the fatherhood in the skies, has long been a com- 
monplace without ceasing to be a paradox. But 
there is another historic element that must also be 
realized. Without saying anything more of its 
tremendous essence, it is very necessary to note 
why even pre-Christian Rome was regarded as 
something mystical for long afterwards by all 
European men. The extreme view of it was held, 
perhaps, by Dante ; but it pervaded mediaeval- 
ism, and therefore still haunts modernity. Rome 
was regarded a$ Man, mighty, though fallen, 
because it was the utmost that Man had done. 
It was divinely necessary that the Roman Empire 
should succeed if only that it might fail 
~- Hence the school of Dante implied the paradox 
that the Roman soldiers killed Christ, not only 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

by right, but even by divine right. That mere 
law might fail at its highest test it had to be real 
law, and not mere military lawlessness. There- 
fore God worked by Pilate as by Peter. There- 
fore the mediaeval poet is eager to show that 
Roman government was simply good government, 
and not a usurpation. For it was the whole 
point of the Christian revolution to maintain that 
in this, good government was as bad as bad. 
Even good government was not good enough to 
know God among the thieves. This is not only 
generally important as involving a colossal change 
in the conscience ; the loss of the whole heathen 
repose in the complete sufficiency of the city or 
the state. It made a sort of eternal rule enclosing 
an eternal rebellion. It must be incessantly re- 
membered through the first half of English history ; 
for it is the whole meaning in the quarrel of the 
priests and kings. 

The double rule of the civilization and the 
religion in one sense remained for centuries ; and 
before its first misfortunes came it must be con- 
ceived as substantially the same everywhere. And 
however it began it largely ended in equality. 
Slavery certainly existed, as it had in the most 
democratic states of ancient times. Harsh official- 
ism certainly existed, as it exists in the most 
democratic states of modern times. But there 
was nothing of what we mean in modern times 
by aristocracy, still less of what we mean by 
racial domination* In so far as any change was 
passing over that society with its two levels of 

12 



THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN 

equal citizens and equal slaves, it was only the 
slow growth of the power of the Church at the 
expense of the power of the Empire. Now it is 
important to grasp that the great exception to 
equality, the institution of Slavery, was slowly 
modified by both causes. It was weakened both 
by the weakening of the Empire and by the 
strengthening of the Church. 

Slavery was for the Church not a difficulty of 
doctrine, but a strain on the imagination. Aris- 
totle and the pagan sages who had defined the 
servile or " useful " arts, had regarded the slave 
as a tool, an axe to cut wood or whatever wanted 
cutting. The Church did not denounce the 
cutting ; but she felt as if she was cutting glass 
with a diamond. She was haunted by the 
memory that the diamond is so much more 
precious than the glass. So Christianity could 
not settle down into the pagan simplicity that the 
man was made for the work, when the work was 
so much less immortally momentous than the 
man. At about this stage of a history of England 
there is generally told the anecdote of a pun of 
Gregory the Great ; and this is perhaps the true 
point of it. By the Roman theory the barbarian 
bondmen were meant to be useful. The saint's 
mysticism was moved at finding them orna- 
mental ; and <c Non Angli sed Angeli " meant 
more nearly " Not slaves, but souls/' It is to 
the point, in passing, to note that in the modern 
country most collectively Christian, Russia, the 
serfs were always referred to as u souls." The 

13 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

great Pope's phrase, hackneyed as it is, is perhaps 
the first glimpse of the golden halos in the best 
Christian Art. Thus the Church, with whatever 
other faults, worked of her own nature towards 
greater social equality ; and it is a historical error 
tosuppose that the Church hierarchy worked with 
an?tocracie^jor^^ tKem. It was 

an inversioiTof aristocracy 7 ; in fEeldeal of it, at 
least, the last were to be first. The Irish bull 
that " One man is as good as another and a great 
deal better " contains a truth, like many contra- 
dictions ; a truth that was the link between Chris- 
tianity and citizenship. Alone of all superiors, 
the saint does not depress the human dignity of 
others. He is not conscious of his superiority to 
them ; but only more conscious of his inferiority 
than they are. 

But while a million little priests and monks 
like mice were already nibbling at the bonds of 
the ancient servitude, another process was going 
on, which has here been called the weakening of 
the Empire. It is a process which is to this day 
very difficult to explain. But it affected all the 
institutions of all the provinces, especially the 
institution of Slavery. But of all the provinces 
its effect was heaviest in Britain, which lay on 
or beyond the borders. The case of Britain, 
however, cannot possibly be considered alone. 
The first half of English history has been made 
quite unmeaning in the schools by the attempt 
to tell it without reference to that corporate 
Christendom in which it took part and pride. I 



THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN 

fully accept the truth in Mr. Kipling's question 
of " What can they know of England who only 
England know ? " and merely differ from the view 
that they will best broaden their minds by the 
study of Wagga-Wagga and Timbuctoo. It is 
therefore necessary, though very difficult, to frame 
in few words some idea of what happened to the 
whole European race. 

Rome itself, which had made all that strong 
world, was the weakest thing in it. The centre 
had been growing fainter and fainter, and now 
the centre disappeared. Rome had as much freed 
the world as ruled it, and now she could rule no 
more. Save for the presence of the Pope and his 
constantly increasing supernatural prestige, the 
eternal city became like one of her own provincial 
towns. A loose localism was the result rather 
than any conscious intellectual mutiny. There 
was anarchy, but there was no rebellion. For 
rebellion must have a principle, and therefore (for 
those who can think) an authority. Gibbon called 
his great pageant of prose " The Decline and Fall 
of the Roman Empire." The Empire did decline, 
but it did not fall. It remains to this hour. 

By a process very much more indirect even 
than that of the Church, this decentralization and 
drift also worked against the slave-state of 
antiquity. The localism did indeed produce that 
choice of territorial chieftains which came to be 
called Feudalism, and of which we shall speak 
later. But the direct possession of man by man 
the same localism tended to destroy ; though this 

15 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

negative influence upon it bears no kind of pro- 
portion to the positive influence of the Catholic 
Church. The later pagan slavery, like our own 
industrial labour which increasingly resembles it, 
was worked on a larger and larger scale ; and it 
was at last too large to control. The bondman 
found the visible Lord more distant than the new 
invisible one. The slave became the serf; that 
is, he could be shut in, but not shut out. When 
once he belonged to the land, it could not be 
long before the land belonged to him. Even in 
the old and rather fictitious language of chattel 
slavery, there is here a difference. It is the differ- 
ence between a man being a chair and a man 
being a house. Canute might call for his throne ; 
but if he wanted his throne-room he must go and 
get it himself. Similarly, he could tell his slave 
to run, but he could only tell his serf to stay. 
Thus the two slow changes of the time both 
tended to transform the tool into a man. His 
status began to have roots; and whatever has 
roots will have rights. 

What the decline did involve everywhere was 
decivilization ; the loss of letters, of laws, of 
roads and means of communication, the exaggera- 
tion of local colour into caprice. But on the 
edges of the Empire this decivilixation became a 
definite barbarism, owing to the nearness of wild 
neighbours who were ready to destroy as deafly 
and blindly as things are destroyed by fire. Save 
for the lurid and apocalyptic locust-flight of the 
Huns, it is perhaps an exaggeration to talk, even 

16 



THE PROVINCE OF BRITAIN 

in those darkest ages, of a deluge of the bar- 
barians ; at least when we are speaking of the old 
civilization as a whole. But a deluge of barbarians 
is not entirely an exaggeration of what happened 
on some of the borders of the Empire ; of such 
edges of the known world as we began by 
describing in these pages. And on the extreme 
edge of the world lay Britain. 

It may be true, though there is little proof 
of it, that the Roman civilization itself was thinner 
in Britain than in the other provinces ; but it was 
a very civilized civilization. It gathered round 
the great cities like York and Chester and London ; 
for the cities are older than the counties, and 
indeed older even than the countries. These 
were connected by a skeleton of great roads which 
were and are the bones of Britain, But with the 
weakening of Rome the bones began to break 
under barbarian pressure, coming at first from the 
north ; from the Picts who lay beyond Agricola's 
boundary in what is now the Scotch Lowlands. 
The whole of this bewildering time is full of 
temporary tribal alliances, generally mercenary ; 
of barbarians paid to come on or barbarians paid 
to go away. It seems certain that in this welter 
Roman Britain bought help from ruder races 
living about that neck of Denmark where is now 
the duchy of Schleswig. Having been chosen 
only to fight somebody they naturally fought 
anybody ; and a century of fighting followed, 
under the trampling of which the Roman pave- 
ment was broken into yet smaller pieces. It is 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

perhaps permissible to disagree with the historian 
Green when he says that no spot should be more 
sacred to modern Englishmen than the neighbour- 
hood of Ramsgate, where the Schleswig people 
are supposed to have landed ; or when he sug- 
gests that their appearance is the real beginning 
of our island story. It would be rather more 
true to say that it was nearly, though prematurely, 
the end of it. 



18 



Ill 

THE AGE OF LEGENDS 

WE should be startled if we were quietly reading 
a prosaic modern novel, and somewhere in the 
middle it turned without warning into a fairy tale. 
We should be surprised if one of the spinsters in 
Cranford, after tidily sweeping the room with a 
broom, were to fly away on a broomstick. Our 
attention would be arrested if one of Jane Austen's 
young ladies who had just met a dragoon were 
to walk a little further and meet a dragon. Yet 
something very like this extraordinary transition 
takes place in British history at the end of the 
purely Roman period. We have to do with rational 
and almost mechanical accounts of encampment 
and engineering, of a busy bureaucracy and occa- 
sional frontier wars, quite modern in their efficiency 
and inefficiency ; and then all of a sudden we are 
reading of wandering bells and wizard lances, 
of wars against men as tall as trees or as short as 
toadstools. The soldier of civilization is no 
longer fighting with Goths but with goblins ; the 
land becomes a labyrinth of faerie towns unknown 
to history ; and scholars can suggest but cannot 
explain how a Roman ruler or a Welsh chieftain 

19 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

towers up in the twilight as the awful and un* 
begotten Arthur. The scientific age comes first 
and the mythological age after it. One working 
example, the echoes of which lingered till very 
late in English literature, may serve to sum uj; 
the contrast. The British state which was found 
by Caesar was long believed to have been founded 
by Brutus. The contrast between the one very 
dry discovery and the other very fantastic foun- 
dation has something decidedly comic about it ; 
as if Caesar's cc Et tu, Brute," might be translated, 
" What, you here ? " But in one respect the 
fable is quite as important as the fact. They both 
testify to the reality of the Roman foundation of 
our insular society, and show that even the 
stories that seem prehistoric are seldom pre- 
Roman. When England is Elfland, the elves 
are not the Angles. All the phrases that can be 
used as dues through that tangle of traditions 
are more or less Latin phrases. And in all our 
speech there was no word more Roman than 



romance." 



The Roman legions left Britain in the fourth 
century. This did not mean that the Roman 
civilization left it ; but it did mean that the civi- 
lization lay far more open both to admixture and 
attack, ' Christianity had almost certainly come 
to Britain, not indeed otherwise than by the routes 
established by Rome, but certainly long before 
the official Roman mission of Gregory the Great. 
It had certainly been largely swamped by later 
heathen invasions of the undefended coasts. It 

20 



THE AGE OF LEGENDS 

may then rationally be urged that the hold both 
of the Empire and its new religion were here 
weaker than elsewhere, and that the description 
of the general civilization in the last chapter is 
proportionately irrelevant. This, however, is not 
the chief truth of the matter. 

There is one fundamental fact which must be 
understood of the whole of this period. Yet a 
modern man must very nearly turn his mind 
upside down to understand it Almost every 
modern man has in his head an association between 
freedom and the future. The whole culture of 
our time has been full of the notion of " A Good 
Time Coming." Now the whole culture of the 
Dark Ages was full of the notion of " A Good 
Time Going." They looked backwards to old 
enlightenment and forwards to new prejudices. 
In our time there has come a quarrel between 
faith and hope which perhaps must be healed by 
charity. But they were situated otherwise. They 
hoped but it may be said that they hoped for 
yesterday. All the motives that make a man a 
progressive now made a man a conservative then. 
The more he could keep of the past the more he 
had of a fair law and a free state ; the more he 
gave way to the future the more he must endure 
of ignorance and privilege. All we call reason 
was one with all we call reaction. And this is 
the clue which we must carry with us through 
the lives of all the great men of the Dark Ages ; 
of Alfred, of Bede, of Dunstan. If the most 
extreme modern Republican were put back in 

B 21 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

that period he would be an equally extreme Papist 
or even Imperialist. For the Pope was what was 
left of the Empire ; and the Empire what was left 
of the Republic. 

We may compare the man of that time, there- 
fore, to one who has left free cities and even free 
fields behind him, and is forced to advance towards 
a forest. And the forest is the fittest metaphor, 
not only because it was really that wild European 
growth cloven here and there by the Roman 
roads, but also because there has always been 
associated with forests another idea which increased 
as the Roman order decayed. The idea of the 
forests was the idea of enchantment There was 
a notion of things being double or different from 
themselves, of beasts behaving like men and not 
merely, as modern wits would say, of men be- 
having like beasts. But it is precisely here that 
it is most necessary to remember that an age of 
reason had preceded the age of magic. The 
central pillar which has sustained the storied house 
of our imagination ever since has been the idea 
of the civilized knight amid the savage enchant- 
ments ; the adventures of a man still sane in a 
world gone mad. 

The next thing to note in the matter is this : 
that in this barbaric time none of the heroes are 
barbaric. They are only heroes if they are anti- 
barbaric. Men real or mythical, or more prob- 
ably both, became omnipresent like gods among 
the people, and forced themselves into the 
faintest memory and the shortest record, exactly in 

22 



THE AGE OF LEGENDS 

proportion as they had mastered the heathen mad 
ness of the time and preserved the Christian ration- 
ality that had come from Rome. Arthur has his 
name because he killed the heathen ; the heathen 
who killed him have no names at all. Englishmen 
who know nothing of English history, but less 
than nothing of Irish history, have heard some- 
how or other of Brian Boru, though they spell 
it Boroo and seem to be under the impression 
that it is a joke. It is a joke the subtlety of 
which they would never have been able to enjoy, 
if King Brian had not broken the heathen in 
Ireland at the great Battle of Clontarf. The 
ordinary English reader would never have heard 
of Olaf of Norway if he had not " preached the 
Gospel with his sword " ; or of the Cid if he 
had not fought against the Crescent. And though 
Alfred the Great seems to have deserved his title 
even as a personality, he was not so great as the 
work he had to do. 

But the paradox remains that Arthur is more 
real than Alfred. For the age is the age of 
legends. Towards these legends most men adopt 
by instinct a sane attitude ; and, of the two, 
credulity is certainly much more sane than incre- 
dulity. It does not much matter whether most 
of the stories are true ; and (as in such cases as 
Bacon and Shakespeare) to realize that the ques- 
tion does not matter is the first step towards 
answering it correctly. But before the reader 
dismisses anything like an attempt to tell the 
earlier history of the country by its legends, he 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

will do well to keep two principles in mind, both 
of them tending to correct the crude and very 
thoughtless scepticism which has made this part 
of the story so sterile. The nineteenth-century 
historians went on the curious principle of dis- 
missing all people of whom tales are told, and 
concentrating upon people of whom nothing is 
told. Thus, Arthur is made utterly impersonal 
because all legends are lies, but somebody of the 
type of Hengist is made quite an important 
personality, merely because nobody thought him 
important enough to lie about. Now this is to 
reverse all common sense* A great many witty 
sayings are attributed to Talleyrand which were 
really said by somebody else. But they would 
not be so attributed if Talleyrand had been a 
fool, still less if he had been a fable. That fic- 
titious stories are told about a person is, nine 
times out of ten, extremely good evidence that 
there was somebody to tell them about. Indeed 
some allow that marvellous things were done, and 
that there may have been a man named Arthur 
at the time in which they were done ; but here, 
so far as I am concerned, the distinction becomes 
rather dim. I do not understand the attitude 
which holds that there was an Ark and a man 
named Noah, but cannot believe in the existence 
of Noah's Ark. 

The other fact to be remembered is that 
scientific research for the last few years has 
worked steadily in the direction of confirming 
and not dissipating the legends of the populace. 

24 



THE AGE OF LEGENDS 

To take only the obvious instance, modern exca- 
vators with modern spades have found a solid 
stone labyrinth in Crete, like that associated with 
the Minatour, which was conceived as being as 
cloudy a fable as the Chimera. To most people 
this would have seemed quite as frantic as finding 
the roots of Jack's Beanstalk or the skeletons in 
Bluebeard's cupboard, yet it is simply the fact 
Finally, a truth is to be remembered which scarcely 
ever is remembered in estimating the past It 
is the paradox that the past is always present : yet 
it is not what was, but whatever seems to have 
been ; for all the past is a part of faith. What 
did they believe of their fathers ? In this matter 
new discoveries are useless because they are new. 
We may find men wrong in what they thought 
they were, but we cannot find them wrong in 
what they thought they thought. It is therefore 
very practical to put in a few words, if possible, 
something of what a man of these islands in the 
Dark Ages would have skid about his ancestors 
and his inheritance. I will attempt here to put 
some of the simpler things in their order of 
importance as he would have seen them ; and if 
we are to understand our fathers who first made 
this country anything like itself, it is most impor- 
tant that we should remember that if this was not 
their real past, it was their real memory* 

After that blessed crime, as the wit of mystics 
called it, which was for these m$n hardly second 
to the creation of the world, St. Joseph of Arima- 
thea, one of the few followers of the new religion 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

who seem to have been wealthy, set sail as a 
missionary, and after long voyages came to that 
litter of little islands which seemed to the men of 
the Mediterranean something like the last clouds 
of the sunset. He came up upon the western 
and wilder side of that wild and western land, and 
made his way to a valley which through all the 
oldest records is called Avalon. Something of 
rich rains and warmth in its wesdand meadows, 
or something in some lost pagan traditions about 
it, made it persistently regarded as a kind of 
Earthly Paradise. Arthur, after being slain at 
Lyonesse, is carried here, as if to heaven. Here 
the pilgrim planted his staff in the soil ; and it 
took root as a tree that blossoms on Christmas 
Day. 

A mystical materialism marked Christianity 
from its birth ; the very soul of it was a body. 
Among the stoical philosophies and oriental nega- 
tions that were its first foes it fought fiercely and 
particularly for a supernatural freedom to cure 
concrete maladies by concrete substances. Hence 
the scattering of relics was everywhere like the 
scattering of seed. All who took their mission 
from the divine tragedy bore tangible fragments 
which became the germs of churches and cities. 
St. Joseph carried the cup which held the wine of 
the Last Supper and the blood of the Crucifixion 
to that shrine in Avalon which we now caU 
Glastonbury ; and it became the heart of a whole 
universe of legends and romances, not only 
for Britain but for Europe. Throughout this 

26 



THE AGE OF LEGENDS 

tremendous and branching tradition it is called the 
Holy GraiL The vision of it was especially the 
reward of that ring of powerful paladins whom 
King Arthur feasted at a Round Table, a symbol 
of heroic comradeship such as was afterwards 
imitated or invented by mediaeval knighthood. 
Both the cup and the table are of vast importance 
emblematically in the psychology of the chivalric 
experiment. The idea of a round table is not 
merely universality but equality. It has in it, 
modified of course, by other tendencies to differ- 
entiation, the same idea that exists in the very 
word " peers,'* as given to the knights of Charle- 
magne. In this the Round Table is as Roman as 
the round arch, which might also serve as a type ; 
for instead of being one barbaric rock merely rolled 
on the others, the king was rather the keystone 
of an arch. But to this tradition of a level of 
dignity was added something unearthly that was 
from Rome, but not of it ; the privilege that 
inverted all privileges ; the glimpse of heaven 
which seemed almost as capricious as fairyland ; 
the flying chalice which was veiled from the 
highest of all the heroes, and which appeared to 
one knight who was hardly more than a child. 

Rightly or wrongly, this romance established 
Britain for after centuries as a country with a 
chivalrous past. Britain had been a mirror of 
universal knighthood. This fact, or fancy, is of 
colossal import in all ensuing affairs, especially 
the affairs of barbarians. These and number- 
less other local legends are indeed for us buried 

27 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

by the forests of popular fencies that have grown 
out of them. It is all the harder for the serious 
modern mind because our fathers felt at home 
with these tales, and therefore took liberties with 
them. Probably the rhyme which runs, 

** When good King Arthur ruled this land 
He was a noble king, 
He stole three pecks of barley meal," 

is much nearer the true mediaeval note than the 
aristocratic stateliness of Tennyson. But about 
all these grotesques of the popular fancy there is 
one last thing to be remembered. It must espe- 
cially be remembered by those who would dwell 
exclusively on documents, and take no note of 
tradition at alL Wild as would be the results of 
credulity concerning all the old wives* tales, it 
would not be so wild as the errors that can arise 
from trusting to written evidence when there is 
not enough of it Now the whole written evi- 
dence for the first parts of our history would go 
into a small book. A very few details are men- 
tioned, and none are explained. A fact thus 
standing alone, without the key of contemporary 
thought, may be very much more misleading 
than any fable. To know what word an archaic 
scribe wrote without being sure of what thing he 
meant, may produce a result that is literally 
mad. Thus, for instance, it would be unwise to 
accept literally the tale that St. Helena was not 
only a native of Colchester, but was a daughter of 
Old King Cole. But it would not be very unwise ; 
not so unwise as some things that are deduced 

28 



THE AGE OF LEGENDS 

from documents. The natives of Colchester 
certainly did honour to St. Helena, and might 
have had a king named Cole. According to the 
more serious story, the saint's father was an inn- 
keeper ; and the only recorded action of Cole is 
well within the resources of that calling. It 
would not be nearly so unwise as to deduce from 
the written word, as some critic of the future may 
do, th?,t the natives of Colchester were oysters. 



IV 
THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS 

IT is a quaint accident that we employ the word 
cc short-sighted " as a condemnation ; but not the 
word " long-sighted," which we should probably 
use, if at all, as a compliment. Yet the one is 
as much a malady of vision as the other. We 
rightly say, in rebuke of a small-minded modernity, 
that it is very short-sighted to be indifferent to 
all that is historic. But it is as disastrously long- 
sighted to be interested only in what is pre- 
historic. And this disaster has befallen a large 
proportion of the learned who grope in the dark- 
ness of unrecorded epochs for the roots of their 
favourite race or races. The wars, the enslave- 
ments, the primitive marriage customs, the colossal 
migrations and massacres upon which their theories 
repose, are no part of history or even of legend. 
And rather than trust with entire simplicity to 
these it would be infinitely wiser to trust to legend 
of the loosest and most local sort. In any case, 
it is as well to record even so simple a conclusion 
as that what is prehistoric is unhistoricaL 

But there is another way in which common 
sense can be brought to the criticism of some 

3 



THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS 

prodigious racial theories. To employ the same 
figure, suppose the scientific historians explain 
the historic centuries in terms of a prehistoric 
division between short-sighted and long-sighted 
men. They could cite their instances and illus- 
trations. They would certainly explain the 
curiosity of language I mentioned first, as show- 
ing that the short-sighted were the conquered 
race, and their name therefore a term of contempt. 
They could give us very graphic pictures of the 
rude tribal war. They could show how the long- 
sighted people were always cut to pieces in hand- 
to-hand struggles with axe and knife ; until, with 
the invention of bows and arrows, the advantage 
veered to the long-sighted, and their enemies 
were shot down in droves. I could easily write a 
ruthless romance about it, and still more easily 
a ruthless anthropological theory. According to 
that thesis which refers all moral to material 
changes, they could explain the tradition that old 
people grow conservative in politics by the well- 
known fact that old people grow more long- 
sighted. But I think there might be one thing 
about this theory which would stump us, and 
might even, if it be possible, stump them. 
Suppose it were pointed out that through all 
the three thousand years of recorded history, 
abounding in literature of every conceivable kind, 
there was not so much as a mention of the oculist 
question for which all had been dared and done. 
Suppose not one of the living or dead languages 
of mankind had so much as a word for "long- 

3 1 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

sighted " or " short-sighted/* Suppose, in short, 
the question that had torn the whole world in 
two was never even asked at all, until some 
spectacle-maker suggested it somewhere about 
1750, In that case I think we should find it 
hard to believe that this physical difference had 
really pkyed so fundamental a part in human 
history. And that is exactly the case with the 
physical difference between the Celts, the Teutons 
and the Latins. 

I know of no way in which fair-haired people 
can be prevented from falling in love with dark- 
haired people ; and I do not believe that whether 
* man was long-headed or round-headed ever 
made much difference to any one who felt in- 
clined to break his head. To all mortal appear- 
ance, in all mortal records and experience, people 
seem to have killed or spared, married or re- 
frained from marriage, made kings or made slaves, 
with reference to almost any other consideration 
except this one. There was the love of a valley 
or a village, a site or a family ; there were 
enthusiasms for a prince and his hereditary office ; 
there were passions rooted in locality, special 
emotions about sea-folk or mountain-folk ; there 
were historic memories of a cause or an alliance ; 
there was, more than all, the tremendous test of 
religion. But of a cause like that of the Celts 
or Teutons, covering half the earth, there was 
little or nothing. Race was not only never at 
any given moment a motive, but it was never 
even an excuse. The Teutons never had a creed ; 

3* 



THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS 

they never had a cause ; and it was only a 
few years ago that they began even to have a 
cant. 

The orthodox modern historian, notably 
Green, remarks on the singularity of Britain 
in being alone of all Roman provinces wholly 
cleared and repeopled by a Germanic race. He 
does not entertain, as an escape from the singu- 
larity of this event, the possibility that it never 
happened. In the same spirit he deals with the 
little that can be quoted of the Teutonic society. 
His ideal picture of it is completed in small 
touches which even an amateur can detect as 
dubious. Thus he will touch on the Teuton 
with a phrase like " the basis of their society was 
the free man" ; and on the Roman with a phrase 
like c< the mines, if worked by forced labour, must 
have been a source of endless oppression." The 
simple fact being that the Roman and the Teuton 
both had slaves, he treats the Teuton free man 
as the only thing to be considered, not only then 
but now ; and then goes out of his way to say 
that if the Roman treated his slaves badly, the 
slaves were badly treated. He expresses a 
"strange disappointment" that Gildas, the only 
British chronicler, does not describe the great 
Teutonic system. In the opinion of Gildas, a 
modification of that of Gregory, it was a case of 
non Angli 3ed diaboli. The modern Teutonist is 
" disappointed " that the contemporary authority 
saw nothing in his Teutons except wolves, dogs, 
and whelps from the kennel of barbarism. But 

33 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

it is at least faintly tenable that there was nothing 
else to be seen. 

In any case when St. Augustine came to the 
largely barbarized land, with what may be called 
the second of the three great southern visitations 
which civilized these islands, he did not see any 
ethnological problems, whatever there may have 
been to be seen* With him or his converts the 
chain of literary testimony is taken up again ; and 
we must look at the world as they saw it. He 
found a king ruling in Kent, beyond whose 
borders lay other kingdoms of about the same 
size, the kings of which were all apparently 
heathen. The names of these kings were mostly 
what we call Teutonic names ; but those who 
write the almost entirely hagiological records did 
not say, and apparently did not ask, whether the 
populations were in this sense of unmixed blood. 
It is at least possible that, as on the Continent, 
the kings and courts were almost the only 
Teutonic element. The Christians found con- 
verts, they found patrons, they found persecutors ; 
but they did not find Ancient Britons because 
they did not look for them ; and if they moved 
among pure Anglo-Saxons they had not the 
gratification of knowing it. There was, indeed, 
what all history attests, a marked change of feel- 
ing towards the marches of Wales. But all history 
also attests that this is always found, apart from 
any difference in race, in the transition from the 
lowlands to the mountain country. But of all 
the things they found the thing that counts most 

34 



THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS 

in English history is this : that some of the 
kingdoms at least did correspond to genuine 
human divisions, which not only existed then but 
which exist now. Northumbria is still a truer 
thing than Northumberland. Sussex is still 
Sussex ; Essex is still Essex. And that third 
Saxon kingdom whose name is not even to be 
found upon the map, the kingdom of Wessex, 
is called the West Country and is to-day the most 
real of them all. 

The last of the heathen kingdoms to accept 
the cross was Mercia, which corresponds very 
roughly to what we call the Midlands. The 
unbaptized king, Penda, has even achieved a 
certain picturesqueness through this fact, and 
through the forays and furious ambitions which 
constituted the rest of his reputation ; so much 
so that the other day one of those mystics who 
will believe anything but Christianity proposed to 
" continue the work of Penda " in Baling : for- 
tunately not on any large scale. What that prince 
believed or disbelieved it is now impossible and 
perhaps unnecessary to discover ; but this last 
stand of his central kingdom is not insignificant 
The isolation of the Mercian was perhaps due to 
the fact that Christianity grew from the eastern 
and western coasts. The eastern growth was, 
of course, the Augustinian mission, which had 
already made Canterbury the spiritual capital of 
the island. The western grew from whatever 
was left of the British Christianity. The two 
clashed, not in creed but in customs ; and the 

35 



A SHORT* HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Augustinians ultimately prevailed. But the work 
from the west had already been enormous. It 
is possible that some prestige went with the 
possession of Glastonbury, which was like a piece 
of the Holy Land ; but behind Glastonbury there 
was an even grander and more impressive power. 
There irradiated to all Europe at that time the 
glory of the golden age of Ireland. There the 
Celts were the classics of Christian art, opened in 
the Book of Kells four hundred years before its 
time. There the baptism of the whole people 
had been a spontaneous popular festival which 
reads almost like a picnic ; and thence came 
crowds of enthusiasts for the Gospel almost 
literally like men running with good news. This 
must be remembered through the development 
of that dark dual destiny that has bound us to 
Ireland : for doubts have been thrown on a 
national unity which was not from the first a 
political unity. But if Ireland was not one 
kingdom it was in reality one bishopric. Ireland 
was not converted but created by Christianity, as 
a stone church is created ; and all its elements 
were gathered as under a garment, under the 
genius of St Patrick* It was the more individual 
because the religion was mere religion, without 
the secular conveniences. Ireland was never 
Roman, and it was always Romanist* 

But indeed this is, in a lesser degree, true of 
our more immediate subject. It is the paradox 
of this time that only the unworldly things had any 
worldly success. The politics are a nightmare ; 

36 



THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS 

the kings are unstable and the kingdoms shift- 
ing ; and we are really never on solid ground 
except on consecrated ground. The material 
ambitions are not only always unfruitful but 
nearly always unfulfilled. The castles are all 
castles in the air ; it is only the churches that 
are built on the ground. The visionaries are the 
only practical men, as in that extraordinary thing, 
the monastery, which was, in many ways, to be 
the key of our history. The time was to come 
when it was to be rooted out of our country with 
a curious and careful violence ; and the modern 
English reader has therefore a very feeble idea of 
it and hence of the ages in which it worked , 
Even in these pages a word or two about its 
primary nature is therefore quite indispensable. 

In the tremendous testament of our religion 
there are present certain ideals that seem wilder 
than impieties, which have in later times produced 
wild sects professing an almost inhuman perfec- 
tion on certain points ; as in the Quakers who 
renounce the right of self-defence, or the Com- 
munists who refuse any personal possessions. 
Rightly or wrongly, the Christian Church had 
from the first dealt with these visions as being 
special spiritual adventures which were to the 
adventurous. She reconciled them with natural 
human life by calling them specially good, without 
admitting that the neglect of them was necessarily 
bad. She took the view that it takes all sorts 
to make a world, even the religious world ,' and 
used the man who chose to go without arms, 

37 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

family, or property as a sort of exception that 
proved the rule. Now the interesting fact is that 
he really did prove it This madman who would 
not mind his own business becomes the business 
man of the age. The very word a monk " is a 
revolution, for it means solitude and came to 
mean community one might call it sociability. 
What happened was that this communal life 
became a sort of reserve and refuge behind the 
individual life ; a hospital for every kind of hos- 
pitality. We shall see later how this same function 
of the common life was given to the common 
land. It is hard to find an image for it in indi- 
vidualist times ; but in private life we most of 
us know the friend of the family who helps it 
by being outside, like a fairy godmother. It is 
not merely flippant to say that monks and nuns 
stood to mankind as a sort of sanctified league 
of aunts and uncles. It is a commonplace that 
they did everything that nobody else would do ; 
that the abbeys kept the world's diary, faced the 
plagues of all flesh, taught the first technical arts, 
preserved the pagan literature, and above all, by 
a perpetual patchwork of charity, kept the poor 
from the most distant sight of their modern 
despair. We still find it necessary to have a 
reserve of philanthropists, but we trust it to men 
who have made themselves rich, not to men who 
have made themselves poor. Finally, the abbots 
and abbesses were elective. They introduced 
representative government, unknown to ancient 
democracy, and in itself a semi-sacramental idea. 

38 



THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS 

If we could look from the outside at our own 
institutions, we should see that the very notion 
of turning a thousand men into one large man 
walking to Westminster is not only an act of 
faith, but a fairy tale. The fruitful and effective 
history of Anglo-Saxon England would be almost 
entirely a history of its monasteries. Mile by 
mile, and almost man by man, they taught and 
enriched the land. And then, about the begin- 
ning of the ninth century, there came a turn, as 
of the twinkling of an eye, and it seemed that 
all their work was in vain. 

That outer world of universal anarchy that 
lay beyond Christendom heaved another of its 
colossal and almost cosmic waves and swept 
everything away. Through all the eastern gates, 
left open, as it were, by the first barbarian 
auxiliaries, burst a plague of seafaring savages 
from Denmark and Scandinavia ; and the recently 
baptized barbarians were again flooded by the 
unbaptized. All this time, it must be remem- 
bered, the actual central mechanism of Roman 
government had been running down like a clock. 
It was really a race between the driving energy 
of the missionaries on the edges of the Empire 
and the galloping paralysis of the city at the 
centre. In the ninth century the heart had 
stopped before the hands could bring help to it. 
All the monastic civilization which had grown 
up in Britain under a vague Roman protection 
perished unprotected. The toy kingdoms of the 
quarrelling Saxons were smashed like sticks ; 

39 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Guthrum, the pirate chief, slew St. Edmund, 
assumed the crown of East England, took tribute 
from the panic of Mercia, and towered in menace 
over Wessex, the last of the Christian lands. 
The story that follows, page after page, is only 
the story of its despair and its destruction. The 
story is a string of Christian defeats alternated 
with victories so vain as to be more desolate than 
defeats. It is only in one of these, the fine but 
fruitless victory at Ashdown, that we first see in 
the dim struggle, in a desperate and secondary 
part, the figure who has given his title to the 
ultimate turning of the tide. For the victor was 
not then the king, but only the king's younger 
brother. There is, from the first, something 
humble and even accidental about Alfred He 
was a great understudy. The interest of his early 
life lies in this : that he combined an almost 
commonplace coolness, and readiness for the 
ceaseless small bargains and shifting combinations 
of all that period, with the flaming patience of 
saints in times of persecution. While he would 
dare anything for the faith, he would bargain in 
anything except the faith. He was a conqueror, 
with no ambition ; an author only too glad to be 
a translator ; a simple, concentrated, wary man, 
watching the fortunes of one thing, which he 
piloted both boldly and cautiously, and which he 
saved at last. 

He had disappeared after what appeared to be 
the final heathen triumph and settlement, and is 
supposed to have lurked like an outlaw in a 

40 



THE DEFEAT OF THE BARBARIANS 

lonely islet in the impenetrable marshlands of the 
Parret ; towards those wild western lands to 
which aboriginal races are held to have been 
driven by fate itself. But Alfred, as he himself 
wrote in words that are his challenge to the 
period, held that a Christian man was unconcerned 
with fate. He began once more to draw to him 
the bows and spears of the broken levies of the 
western shires, especially the men of Somerset ; 
and in the spring of 878 he flung them at the lines 
before the fenced camp of the victorious Danes at 
Ethandune. His sudden assault was as success- 
ful as that at Ashdown, and it was followed by a 
siege which was successful in a different and very 
definite sense. Guthrum, the conqueror of Eng- 
land, and all his important supports, were here 
penned behind their palisades, and when at last 
they surrendered the Danish conquest had come 
to an end. Guthrum was baptized, and the Treaty 
of Wedmore secured the clearance of Wessex. 
The modern reader will smile at the baptism, and 
turn with greater interest to the terms of the treaty. 
In this acute attitude the modern reader will be 
vitally and hopelessly wrong. He must support 
the tedium of frequent references to the religious 
element in this part of English history, for with- 
out it there would never have been any English 
history at all. And nothing could clinch this 
truth more than the case of the Danes. In all 
the facts that followed, the baptism of Guthrum is 
really much more important than the Treaty of 
Wedmore* The treaty itself was a compromise, 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

and even as such did not endure ; a century after- 
wards a Danish king like Canute was really ruling 
in England. But though the Dane got the 
crown, he did not get rid of the cross. It was 
precisely Alfred's religious exaction that remained 
unalterable. And Canute himself is actually now 
only remembered by men as a witness to the 
futility of merely pagan power ; as the king who 
put his own crown upon the image of Christ, and 
solemnly surrendered to heaven the Scandinavian 
empire of the sea* 



ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN 
KINGS 

THE reader may be surprised at the dispropor- 
tionate importance given to the name which stands 
first in the title of this chapter. I put it there as 
the best way of emphasizing, at the beginning of 
what we may call the practical part of our history, 
an elusive and rather strange thing. It can only 
be described as the strength of the weak kings. 

It is sometimes valuable to have enough 
imagination to unlearn as well as to learn. I 
would ask the reader to forget his reading and 
everything that he learnt at school, and consider 
the English monarchy as it would then appear to 
him. Let him suppose that his acquaintance with 
the ancient kings has only come to him as it 
came to most men in simpler times, from nursery 
tales, from the names of places, from the dedica- 
tions of churches and charities, from the tales in 
the tavern, and the tombs in the churchyard. 
Let us suppose such a person going upon some 
open and ordinary English way, such as the 
Thames valley to Windsor, or visiting some old 
seats of culture, such as Oxford or Cambridge. 

43 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

One of the first things, for instance, he would 
find would be Eton, a place transformed, indeed, 
by modern aristocracy, but still enjoying its 
mediaeval wealth and remembering its mediaeval 
origin. If he asked about that origin, it is pro- 
bable that even a public schoolboy would know 
enough history to tell him that it was founded 
by Henry VI. If he went to Cambridge and 
looked with his own eyes for the college chapel 
which artistically towers above all others like a 
cathedral, he would probably ask about it, and 
be told it was King's College. If he asked 
which king, he would again be told Henry VI. 
If he then went into the library and looked up 
Henry VL in an encyclopaedia, he would find 
that the legendary giant, who had left these 
gigantic works behind him, was in history an 
almost invisible pigmy. Amid the varying and 
contending numbers of a great national quarrel, he 
is the only cipher. The contending factions carry 
him about like a bale of goods. His desires do 
not seem to be even ascertained, far less satisfied. 
And yet his real desires are satisfied in stone 
and marble, in oak and gold, and remain through 
all the maddest revolutions of modern England, 
while all the ambitions of those who dictated 
to him have gone away like dust upon the wind. 

Edward the Confessor, like Henry VL, was 
not only an invalid but almost an idiot. It is 
said that he was wan like an albino, and that the 
awe men had of him was partly that which is felt 
for a monster of mental deficiency. His Christian 

44 



ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN KINGS 

charity was of the kind that borders on anarchism, 
and the stories about him recall the Christian fools 
in the great anarchic novels of Russia. Thus he 
is reported to have covered the retreat of a common 
thief upon the naked plea that the thief needed 
things more than he did. Such a story is in 
strange contrast to the claims made for other 
kings, that theft was impossible in their domin- 
ions. Yet the two types of king are afterwards 
praised by the same people ; and the really arrest- 
ing fact is that the incompetent king is praised 
the more highly of the two. And exactly as in 
the case of the last Lancastrian, we find that the 
praise has really a very practical meaning in the 
long run. When we turn from the destructive 
to the constructive side of the Middle Ages we 
find that the village idiot is the inspiration of 
cities and civic systems. We find his seal upon 
the sacred foundations of Westminster Abbey. 
We find the Norman victors in the hour of 
victory bowing before his very ghost. In the 
Tapestry of Bayeux, woven by Norman hands to 
justify the Norman cause and glorify the Norman 
triumph, nothing is claimed for the Conqueror 
beyond his conquest and the plain personal tale 
that excuses it, and the story abruptly ends with 
the breaking of the Saxon line at Battle. But 
over the bier of the decrepit zany, who died with- 
out striking a blow, over this and this alone, is 
shown a hand coming out of heaven, and declaring 
the true approval of the power that rules the 
world. 

45 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

The Confessor, therefore, is a paradox in 
many ways, and in none more than in the false 
reputation of the " English " of that day. As I 
have indicated, there is some unreality in talking 
about the Anglo-Saxon at all. The Anglo-Saxon 
is a mythical and straddling giant, who has pre- 
sumably left one footprint in England and the 
other in Saxony. But there was a community, or 
rather group of communities, living in Britain 
before the Conquest under what we call Saxon 
names, and of a blood probably more Germanic 
and certainly less French than the same communi- 
ties after the Conquest. And they have a modern 
reputation which is exactly the reverse of their 
real one. The value of the Anglo-Saxon is ex- 
aggerated, and yet his virtues are ignored. Our 
Anglo-Saxon blood is supposed to be the practical 
part of us ; but as a fact the Anglo-Saxons were 
more hopelessly unpractical than any Celt. Their 
racial influence is supposed to be healthy, or, what 
many think the same thing, heathen. But as a 
fact these "Teutons'* were the mystics. The 
Anglo-Saxons did one thing, and one thing only, 
thoroughly well, as they were fitted to do it 
thoroughly well. They christened England. 
Indeed, they christened it before it was born. 
The orie thing the Angles obviously and certainly 
could not manage to do was to become English. 
But they did become Christians, and indeed 
showed a particular disposition to become monks. 
Moderns who talk vaguely of them as our hardy 
ancestors never do justice to the real good they 



ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN KINGS 

did us, by thus opening our history, as it were, 
with the fable of an age of innocence, and begin- 
ning all our chronicles, as so many chronicles 
began, with the golden initial of a saint. By 
becoming monks they served us in many very 
valuable and special capacities, but not notably, 
perhaps, in the capacity of ancestors. 

Along the northern coast of France, where the 
Confessor had passed his early life, lay the lands 
of one of the most powerful of the French king's 
vassals, the Duke of Normandy. He and his 
people, who constitute one of the most picturesque 
and curious elements in European history, are 
confused for most of us by irrelevant controversies 
which would have been entirely unintelligible to 
them. The worst of these is the inane fiction 
which gives the name of Norman to the English 
aristocracy during its great period of the last 
three hundred years. Tennyson informed a lady 
of the name of Vere de Vere that simple faith 
was more valuable than Norman blood. But the 
historical student who can believe in Lady Clara 
as the possessor of the Norman blood must be 
himself a large possessor of the simple faith. As 
a matter of fact, as we shall see also when we 
come to the political scheme of the Normans, 
the notion is the negation of their real importance 
in history. The fashionable fancy misses what 
was best in the Normans, exactly as we have 
found it missing what was best in the Saxons. 
One does not know whether to thank the Normans 
more for appearing or for disappearing. Few 

47 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

philanthropists ever became so rapidly anonymous. 
It is the great glory of the Norman adventurer 
that he threw himself heartily into his chance 
position ; and had faith not only in his comrades, 
but in his subjects, and even in his enemies. He 
was loyal to the kingdom he had not yet made. 
Thus the Norman Bruce becomes a Scot ; thus 
the descendant of the Norman Strongbow becomes 
an Irishman. No men less than Normans can be 
conceived as remaining as a superior caste until 
the present time. But this alien and adventurous 
loyalty in the Norman, which appears in these 
other national histories, appears most strongly of 
all in the history we have here to follow. The 
Duke of Normandy does become a real King of 
England ; his claim through the Confessor, his 
election by the Council, even his symbolic hand- 
fills of the soil of Sussex, these are not altogether 
empty forms. And though both phrases would 
be inaccurate, it is very much nearer the truth to 
call William the first of the English than to call 
Harold the last of them. 

An indeterminate debate touching the dim 
races that mixed without record in that dim epoch, 
has made much of the fact that the Norman 
edges of France, like the East Anglian edges of 
England, were deeply penetrated by the Norse 
invasions of the ninth century ; and that the 
ducal house of Normandy, with what other 
families we know not, can be traced back to a 
Scandinavian seed. The unquestionable power of 
captaincy and creative legislation which belonged 

48 



ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN KINGS 

to the Normans, whoever they were, may be 
connected reasonably enough with some in- 
fusion of fresh blood. But if the racial theorists 
press the point to a comparison of races, it can 
obviously only be answered by a study of the 
two types in separation. And it must surely be 
manifest that more civilizing power has since 
been shown by the French when untouched by 
Scandinavian blood than by the Scandinavians 
when untouched by French blood. As much 
fighting (and more ruling) was done by the 
Crusaders who were never Vikings as by the 
Vikings who were never Crusaders. But in truth 
there is no need of such invidious analysis ; we 
may willingly allow a real value to the Scandi- 
navian contribution to the French as to the 
English nationality, so long as we firmly under- 
stand the ultimate historic fact that the duchy of 
Normandy was about as Scandinavian as the town 
of Norwich. But the debate has another danger, 
in that it tends to exaggerate even the personal 
importance of the Norman. Many as were his 
talents as a master, he is in history the servant of 
other and wider things. The landing of Lanfranc 
is perhaps more of a date than the landing of 
William. And Lanfranc was an Italian like 
Julius Caesar. The Norman is not in history a 
mere wall, the rather brutal boundary of a mere 
empire. The Norman is a gate. He is like one 
of those gates which still remain as he made 
them, with round arch and rude pattern and stout 
supporting columns ; and what entered by that 

49 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

gate was civilization. William of Falaise has in 
history a title much higher than that of Duke of 
Normandy or King or England. He was what 
Julius Caesar was, and what St. Augustine was : 
he was the ambassador of Europe to Britain. 

William asserted that the Confessor, in the 
course of that connection which followed naturally 
from his Norman education, had promised the 
English crown to the holder of the Norman 
dukedom. Whether he did or not we shall 
probably never know: it is not intrinsically 
impossible or even improbable. To blame the 
promise as unpatriotic, even if it was given, is 
to read duties defined at a much later date 
into the first feudal chaos ; to make such blame 
positive and personal is like expecting the Ancient 
Britons to sing u Rule Britannia." William further 
clinched his case by declaring that Harold, the 
principal Saxon noble and the most probable 
Saxon claimant, had, while enjoying the Duke's 
hospitality after a shipwreck, sworn upon sacred 
relics not to dispute the Duke's claim. About 
this episode also we must agree that we do not 
know ; yet we shall be quite out of touch with 
the time if we say that we do not care. The 
element of sacrilege in the alleged perjury of 
Harold probably affected the Pope when he 
blessed a banner for William's army ; but it did 
not affect the Pope much more than it would 
have affected the people ; and Harold's people 
quite as much as William's. Harold's people 
presumably denied the fact ; and their denial is 



ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN KINGS 

probably the motive of the very marked and 
almost eager emphasis with which the Bayeux 
Tapestry asserts and reasserts the reality of the 
personal betrayal* There is here a rather arresting 
fact to be noted. A great part of this celebrated 
pictorial record is not concerned at all with the 
well-known historical events which we have only 
to note rapidly here. It does, indeed, dwell a 
little on the death of Edward ; it depicts the 
difficulties of William's enterprise in the felling 
of forests for shipbuilding, in the crossing of the 
Channel, and especially in the charge up the hill 
at Hastings, in which full justice is done to the 
destructive resistance of Harold's army. But it 
was really after Duke William had disembarked 
and defeated Harold on the Sussex coast, that he 
did what is historically worthy to be called the 
Conquest. It is not until these later operations 
that we have the note of the new and scientific 
militarism from the Continent. Instead of march- 
ing upon London he marched round it ; and 
crossing the Thames at Wallingford cut off the 
city from the rest of the country and compelled 
its surrender. He had himself elected king with 
all the forms that would have accompanied a 
peaceful succession to the Confessor, and after a 
brief return to Normandy took up the work of 
war again to bring all England under his crown. 
Marching through the snow, he laid waste the 
northern counties, seized Chester, and made rather 
than won a kingdom. These things are the 
foundations of historical England ; but of these 

5* 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

things the pictures woven in honour of his house 
tell us nothing* The Bayeux Tapestry may almost 
be said to stop before the Norman Conquest. 
But it tells in great detail the tale of some trivial 
raid into Brittany solely that Harold and William 
may appear as brothers in arms ; and especially 
that William may be depicted in the very act of 
giving arms to Harold. And here again there is 
much more significance than a modern reader 
may fancy, in its bearing upon the new birth of 
that time and the ancient symbolism of arms. I 
have said that Duke William was a vassal of the 
King of France ; and that phrase in its use and 
abuse is the key to the secular side of this epoch. 
William was indeed a most mutinous vassal, and 
a vein of such mutiny runs through his family 
fortunes : his sons Rufus and Henry I. disturbed 
him with internal ambitions antagonistic to his 
own. But it would be a blunder to allow such 
personal broils to obscure the system, which had 
indeed existed here before the Conquest, which 
clarified and confirmed it. That system we call 
Feudalism. 

That Feudalism was the main mark of the 
Middle Ages is a commonplace of fashionable 
information ; but it is of the sort that seeks the 
past rather in Wardour Street than Watting 
Street. For that matter, the very term "mediaeval " 
is used for almost anything from Early English 
to Early Victorian. An eminent Socialist applied 
it to our armaments, which is like applying it to 
our aeroplanes. Similarly the just description 

5* 



ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN KINGS 

of Feudalism, and of how far it was a part and 
how far rather an impediment in the main 
mediaeval movement, is confused by current 
debates about quite modern things especially 
that modern thing, the English squirearchy. 
Feudalism was very nearly the opposite of squire- 
archy. For it is the whole point of the squire 
that his ownership is absolute and is pacific. And 
it is the very definition of Feudalism that it was 
a tenure, and a tenure by military service. Men 
paid their rent in steel instead of gold, in spears 
and arrows against the enemies of their landlord. 
But even these landlords were not landlords in 
the modern sense ; every one was practically as 
well as theoretically a tenant of the King ; and 
even he often fell into a feudal inferiority to a 
Pope or an Emperor. To call it mere tenure by 
soldiering may seem a simplification ; but indeed 
it is precisely here that it was not so simple as 
it seems. It is precisely a certain knot or enigma 
in the nature of Feudalism which makes half the 
struggle of European history, but especially English 
history. 

There was a certain unique type of state and 
culture which we call mediaeval, for want of a 
better word, which we see in the Gothic or the 
great Schoolmen. This thing in itself was above 
all things logical. Its very cult of authority was 
a thing of reason, as all men who can reason 
themselves instantly recognize, even if, like 
Huxley, they deny its premises or dislike its 
fruits. Being logical, it was very exact about 

c $3 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

who had the authority. Now Feudalism was not 
quite logical, and was never quite exact about 
who had the authority. Feudalism already 
flourished before the mediaeval renascence began. 
It was, if not the forest the mediaevals had to 
clear, at least the rude timber with which they 
had to build. Feudalism was a fighting growth 
of the Dark Ages before the Middle Ages ; the 
age of barbarians resisted by semi-barbarians. I 
do not say this in disparagement of it* Feudalism 
was mostly a very human thing ; the nearest con- 
temporary name for it was homage, a word which 
almost means humanity. On the other hand, 
mediaeval logic, never quite reconciled to it, could 
become in its extremes inhuman. It was often 
mere prejudice that protected men, and pure 
reason that burned them. The feudal units grew 
through the lively localism of the Dark Ages, 
when hills without roads shut in a valley like a 
garrison. Patriotism had to be parochial ; for 
men had no country, but only a countryside. In 
such cases the lord grew larger than the king ; 
but it bred not only a local lordship but a kind of 
local liberty. And it would be very inadvisable 
to ignore the freer element in Feudalism in 
English history. For it is the one kind of 
freedom that the English have had and held 

The knot in the system was something like 
this. In theory the King owned everything, 
like an earthly providence ; and that made for 
despotism and " divine right," which meant in 
substance a natural authority. In one aspect the 

54 



ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN KINGS 

King was simply the one lord anointed by the 
Church, that is recognized by the ethics of the age. 
But while there was more royalty in theory, there 
could be more rebellion in practice. Fighting 
was much more equal than in our age of muni- 
tions, and the various groups could arm almost 
instantly with bows from the forest or spears from 
the smith* Where men are military there is no 
militarism. But it is more vital that while the 
kingdom was in this sense one territorial army, 
the regiments of it were also kingdoms. The 
sub-units were also sub-loyalties. Hence the 
loyalist to his lord might be a rebel to his king ; 
or the king be a demagogue delivering him from 
the lord. This tangle is responsible for the 
tragic passions about betrayal, as in the case of 
William and Harold ; the alleged traitor who is 
always found to be recurrent, yet always felt to 
be exceptional. To break the tie was at once 
easy and terrible. Treason in the sense of re- 
bellion was then really felt as treason in the sense 
of treachery, since it was desertion on a per- 
petual battlefield. Now, there was even more of 
this civil war in English than in other history, 
and the more local and less logical energy on the 
whole prevailed. Whether there was something 
in those island idiosyncracies, shapeless as sea- 
mists, with which this story began, or whether 
the Roman imprint had really been lighter than 
in Gaul, the feudal undergrowth prevented even 
a full attempt to build the Civitas Dei, or ideal 
mediaeval state. What emerged was a compromise, 

55 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

which men long afterwards amused themselves 
by calling a constitution. 

There are paradoxes permissible for the 
redressing of a bad balance in criticism, and 
which may safely even be emphasized so long 
as they are not isolated. One of these I have 
called at the beginning of this chapter the strength 
of the weak kings. And there is a complement 
of it, even in this crisis of the Norman mastery, 
which might well be called the weakness of the 
strong kings. William of Normandy succeeded 
immediately, he did not quite succeed ultimately ; 
there was in his huge success a secret of failure 
that only bore fruit long after his death. It was 
certainly his single aim to simplify England into 
a popular autocracy, like that growing up in 
France ; with that aim he scattered the feudal 
holdings in scraps, demanded a direct vow from 
the sub-vassals to himself and used any tool 
against the barony, from the highest culture of 
the foreign ecclesiastics to the rudest relics of 
Saxon custom. But the very parallel of France 
makes the paradox stardingly apparent. It is a 
proverb that the first French kings were puppets ; 
that the mayor of the palace was quite insolently 
the king of the king. Yet it is certain that the 
puppet became an idol ; a popular idol of un- 
paralleled power, before which all mayors and 
nobles bent or were broken. In France arose 
absolute government, the more because it was 
not precisely personal government The King 
was already a thing like the Republic. Indeed 

56 



ST. EDWARD AND THE NORMAN KINGS 

the mediaeval Republics were rigid with divine 
right. In Norman England, perhaps, the govern- 
ment was too personal to be absolute. Anyhow, 
there is a real though recondite sense in which 
William the Conqueror was William the Con- 
quered When his two sons were dead, the 
whole country fell into a feudal chaos almost like 
that before the Conquest. In France the princes 
who had been slaves became something excep- 
tional like priests ; and one of them became a 
saint But somehow our greatest kings were still 
barons ; and by that very energy our barons 
became our kings. 



VI 
THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES 

THE last chapter began, in an apparent irrele- 
vance, with the name of St. Edward ; and this 
one might very well begin with the name of 
St. George. His first appearance, it is said, as 
a patron of our people, occurred at the instance 
of Richard Cceur de Lion during his campaign 
in Palestine ; and this, as we shall see, really 
stands for a new England which might well have 
a new saint. But the Confessor is a character 
in English history ; whereas St. George, apart 
from his place in martyrology as a Roman soldier, 
can hardly be said to be a character in any history. 
And if we wish to understand the noblest and 
most neglected of human revolutions, we can 
hardly get closer to it than by considering this 
paradox, of how much progress and enlighten- 
ment was represented by thus passing from a 
chronicle to a romance. 

In any intellectual corner of modernity can 
be found such a phrase as I have just read in a 
newspaper controversy : " Salvation, like other 
good things, must not come from outside." To 
call a spiritual thing external and not internal is 

58 



THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES 

the chief mode of modernist excommunication. 
But if our subject of study is mediaeval and not 
modern, we must pit against this apparent plati- 
tude the very opposite idea. We must put our- 
selves in the posture of men who thought that 
almost every good thing came from outside 
like good news. I confess that I am not impartial 
in my sympathies here ; and that the newspaper 
phrase I quoted strikes me as a blunder about 
the very nature of life. I do not, in my private 
capacity, believe that a baby gets his best physical 
food by sucking his thumb ; nor that a man gets 
his best moral food by sucking his soul, and 
denying its dependence on God or other good 
things. I would maintain that thanks are the 
highest form of thought ; and that gratitude is 
happiness doubled by wonder. But this faith in 
receptiveness, and in respect for things outside 
oneself, need here do no more than help me in 
explaining what any version of this epoch ought 
in any case to explain. In nothing is the modern 
German more modern, or more mad, than in his 
dream of finding a German name for everything ; 
eating his language, or in other words biting his 
tongue. And in nothing were the mediaevals 
more free and sane than in their acceptance of 
names and emblems from outside their most 
beloved limits. The monastery would often not 
only take in the stranger but almost canonize him. 
A mere adventurer like Bruce was enthroned and 
thanked as if he had really come as a knight 
errant. And a passionately patriotic community 

59 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

more often than not had a foreigner for a patron 
saint Thus crowds of saints were Irishmen, but 
St. Patrick was not an Irishman. Thus as the 
English gradually became a nation, they left the 
numberless Saxon saints in a sense behind them, 
passed over by comparison not only the sanctity 
of Edward but the solid fame of Alfred, and 
invoked a half mythical hero, striving in an 
eastern desert against an impossible monster. 

That transition and that symbol stand for the 
Crusades. In their romance and reality they were 
the first English experience of learning, not only 
from the external, but the remote. England, like 
every Christian thing, had thriven on outer things 
without shame. From the roads of Caesar to the 
churches of Lanfranc, it had sought its meat from 
God. But now the eagles were on the wing, 
scenting a more distant slaughter ; they were 
seeking the strange things instead of receiving 
them. The English had stepped from acceptance 
to adventure, and the epic of their ships had 
begun. The scope of the great religious move- 
ment which swept England along with all the 
West would distend a book like this into huge 
disproportion, yet it would be much better to do 
so than to dismiss it in the distant and frigid 
fashion common in such short summaries. The 
inadequacy of our insular method in popular 
history is perfectly shown in the treatment of 
Richard Cceur de Lion. His tale is told with the 
implication that his departure for the Crusade 
was something like the escapade of a schoolboy 

60 



THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES 

running away to sea. It was, in this view, a 
pardonable or lovable prank ; whereas in truth 
it was more like a responsible Englishman now 
going to the Front. Christendom was nearly one 
nation, and the Front was the Holy Land. That 
Richard himself was of an adventurous and even 
romantic temper is true, though it is not un- 
reasonably romantic for a born soldier to do the 
work he does best. But the point of the argu- 
ment against insular history is particularly illus- 
trated here by the absence of a continental 
comparison. In this case we have only to step 
across the Straits of Dover to find the fallacy. 
Philip Augustus, Richard's contemporary in 
France, had the name of a particularly cautious 
and coldly public-spirited statesman ; yet Philip 
Augustus went on the same Crusade. The reason 
was, of course, that the Crusades were, for all 
thoughtful Europeans, things of the highest 
statesmanship and the purest public spirit. 

Some six hundred years after Christianity 
sprang up in the East and swept westwards, 
another great faith arose in almost the same 
eastern lands and followed it like its gigantic 
shadow. Like a shadow, it was at once a copy 
and a contrary. We call it Islam, or the creed 
of the Moslems ; and perhaps its most explanatory 
description is that it was the final flaming up 
of the accumukted Orientalisms, perhaps of the 
accumulated Hebraisms, gradually rejected as the 
Church grew more European, or as Christianity 
turned into Christendom. Its highest motive 

61 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

was a hatred of Idols, and in its view Incarnation 
was itself an idolatry. The two things it perse- 
cuted were the idea of God being made flesh and 
of His being afterwards made wood or stone. A 
study of the questions smouldering in the track 
of the prairie fire of the Christian conversion 
favours the suggestion that this fanaticism against 
art or mythology was at once a development and 
a reaction from that conversion, a sort of minority 
report of the Hebraists. In this sense Islam was 
something like a Christian heresy. The early 
heresies had been full of mad reversals and 
evasions of the Incarnation, rescuing their Jesus 
from the reality of his body even at the expense 
of the sincerity of his soul. And the Greek 
Iconoclasts had poured into Italy, breaking the 
popular statues and denouncing the idolatry of 
the Pope, until routed, in a style sufficiently 
symbolic, by the sword of the father of Charle- 
magne. It was all these disappointed negations 
that took fire from the genius of Mahomet, and 
launched out of the burning lands a cavalry charge 
that nearly conquered the world And if it be 
suggested that a note on such Oriental origins is 
rather remote from a history of Engknd, the 
answer is that this book may, alas ! contain many 
digressions, but that this is not a digression. It 
is quite peculiarly necessary to keep in mind that 
this Semite god haunted Christianity like a ghost ; 
to remember it in every European corner, but 
especially in our corner. If any one doubts the 
necessity, lgt him take a walk to all the parish 

62 



THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES 

churches in England within a radius of thirty 
miles, and ask why this stone virgin is headless 
or that coloured glass is gone. He will soon 
learn that it was lately, and in his own lanes and 
homesteads, that the ecstasy of the deserts re- 
turned, and his bleak northern island was filled 
with the fury of the Iconoclasts, 

It was an element in this sublime and yet 
sinister simplicity of Islam that it knew no boun- 
daries. Its very home was homeless. For it 
was born in a sandy waste among nomads, and 
it went everywhere because it came from nowhere. 
But in the Saracens of the early Middle Ages 
this nomadic quality in Islam was masked by a 
high civilization, more scientific if less creatively 
artistic than that of contemporary Christendom. 
The Moslem monotheism was, or appeared to be, 
the more rationalist religion of the two. This 
rootless refinement was characteristically advanced 
in abstract things, of which a memory remains 
in the very name of algebra. In comparison the 
Christian civilization was still largely instinctive,, 
but its instincts were very strong and very much 
the other way. It was full of local affections, 
which found form in that system of fences which 
runs like a pattern through everything mediaeval, 
from heraldry to the holding of land. There was 
a shape and colour in all their customs and 
statutes which can be seen in all their tabards 
and escutcheons ; something at once strict and 
gay. This is not a departure from the interest 
in external things, but rather a part of it. The 

63 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

very welcome they would often give to a stranger 
from beyond the wall was a recognition of the 
wall. Those who think their own life all-sufficient 
do not see its limit as a wall, but as the end oi 
the world. The Chinese called the white man 
" a sky-breaker." The mediaeval spirit loved its 
part in life as a part, not a whole ; its charter for 
it came from something else. There is a joke 
about a Benedictine monk who used the common 
grace of Btnedictus benedicat, whereupon the un- 
lettered Franciscan triumphantly retorted Franciscus 
Frandscaf. It is something of a parable of 
mediaeval history ; for if there were a verb Fran- 
ciscare it would be an approximate description of 
what St. Francis afterwards did. But that more 
individual mysticism was only approaching its 
birth, and Benedktus benedicat Is very precisely 
the motto of the earliest medievalism. I mean 
that everything is blessed from beyond, by some- 
thing which has in its turn been blessed from 
beyond again ; only the blessed bless. But the 
point which is the clue to the Crusades is this : 
that for them the beyond was not the infinite, 
as in a modern religion* Every beyond was a 
place. The mystery of locality, with all its hold 
on the human heart, was as much present in the 
most ethereal things of Christendom as it was 
absent from the most practical things of Islam. 
England would derive a thing from France, France 
from Italy, Italy from Greece, Greece from 
Palestine, Palestine from Paradise. It was not 
merely that a yeoman of Kent would have his 

64 



THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES 

house hallowed by the priest of the parish church, 
which was confirmed by Canterbury, which was 
confirmed by Rome. Rome herself did not wor- 
ship herself, as in the pagan age. Rome herself 
looked eastward to the mysterious cradle of her 
creed, to a land of which the very earth was called 
holy. And when she looked eastward for it she saw 
the face of Mahound. She saw standing in the 
place that was her earthly heaven a devouring giant 
out of the deserts, to whom all places were the same. 

It has been necessary thus to pause upon the 
inner emotions of the Crusade, because the 
modern English reader is widely cut off from 
these particular feelings of his fathers ; and the 
real quarrel of Christendom and Islam, the fire- 
baptism of the young nations, could not other- 
wise be seized in its unique character. It was 
nothing so simple as a quarrel between two men 
who both wanted Jerusalem. It was the much 
deadlier quarrel between one man who wanted it 
and another man who could not see why it was 
wanted. The Moslem, of course, had his own 
holy places ; but he has never felt about them as 
Westerns can feel about a field or a roof-tree ; he 
thought of the holiness as holy, not of the places 
as places. The austerity which forbade him 
imagery, the wandering war that forbade him rest, 
shut him off from all that was breaking out and 
blossoming in our local patriotisms ; just as it has 
given the Turks an empire without ever giving 
them a nation. 

Now, the effect of this adventure against a 

65 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

mighty and mysterious enemy was simply enor- 
mous in the transformation of England, as of all 
the nations that were developing side by side with 
England. Firstly, we learnt enormously from 
what the Saracen did. Secondly, we learnt yet 
more enormously from what the Saracen did not 
do. Touching some of the good things which 
we lacked, we were fortunately able to follow him. 
But in aU the good things which he lacked, we 
were confirmed like adamant to deiy him. It 
may be said that Christians never knew how right 
they were till they went to war with Moslems. 
At once the most obvious and the most repre- 
sentative reaction was the reaction which produced 
the best of what we call Christian Art ; and espe- 
cially those grotesques of Gothic architecture, 
which are not only alive but kicking. The East 
as an environment, as an impersonal glamour, 
certainly stimulated the Western mind, but 
stimulated it rather to break the Moslem com- 
mandment than to keep it. It was as if the 
Christian were impelled, like a caricaturist, to cover 
all that faceless ornament with faces; to give 
heads to all those headless serpents and birds to 
all those lifeless trees. Statuary quickened and 
came to life under the veto of the enemy as 
under a benediction. The image, merely because 
it was called an idol, became not only an ensign 
but a weapon. A hundredfold host of stone 
sprang up all over the shrines and streets of 
Europe. The Iconoclasts made more statues 
than they destroyed. 

66 



THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES 

The place of Coeur de Lion in popular fable 
and gossip is far more like his place in true history 
than the place of the mere denationalized ne'er- 
do-weel given him in our utilitarian school books. 
Indeed the vulgar rumour is nearly always much 
nearer the historical truth than the "educated" 
opinion of to-day ; for tradition is truer than 
fashion. King Richard, as the typical Crusader, 
did make a momentous difference to England by 
gaining glory in the East, instead of devoting 
himself conscientiously to domestic politics in the 
exemplary manner of King John. The accident 
of his military genius and prestige gave England 
something which it kept for four hundred years, 
and without which it is incomprehensible through- 
out that period the reputation of being in the 
very vanguard of chivalry. The great romances 
of the Round Table, the attachment of knight- 
hood to the name of a British king, belong to 
this period. Richard was not only a knight but 
a troubadour ; and culture and courtesy were 
linked up with the idea of English valour. The 
mediaeval Englishman was even proud of being 
polite ; which is at least no worse than being 
proud of money and bad manners, which is what 
many Englishmen in our later centuries have 
meant by their common sense* 

Chivalry might be called the baptism of 
Feudalism. It was an attempt to bring the jus- 
tice and even the logic of the Catholic creed into 
a military system which already existed ; to turn 
its discipline into an initiation and its inequalities 

67 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

into a hierarchy. To the comparative grace of 
the new period belongs, of course, that consider- 
able cultus of the dignity of woman, to which 
the word " chivalry " is often narrowed, or perhaps 
exalted. This also was a revolt against one of 
the worst gaps in the more polished civilization 
of the Saracens. The Moslems naturally suffered 
from the older Oriental sentiment about women ; 
and were, of course, without the special inspira- 
tion given by the cult of the Virgin. It is 
false to say that the chivalric view of women 
was merely an affectation, except in the sense in 
which there must always be an affectation where 
there is an ideal. It is the worst sort of super- 
ficiality not to see the pressure of a general senti- 
ment merely because it is always broken up by 
events ; the Crusade itself, for example, is more 
present and potent as a dream even than as a 
reality. From the first Plantagenet to the last 
Lancastrian it haunts the minds of English kings, 
giving as a background to their battles a mirage 
of Palestine. So a devotion like that of Edward L 
to his queen was quite a real motive in the lives 
of multitudes of his contemporaries. When 
crowds of enlightened tourists, setting forth to 
sneer at the superstitions of the continent, are 
taking tickets and labelling luggage at the 
large railway station at the west end of the 
Strand, I do not know whether they all speak 
to their wives with a more flowing courtesy than 
their fathers in Edward's time, or whether they 
pause to meditate on the legend of a husband's 

68 



THE AGE OF THE CRUSADES 

sorrow, to be found in the very name of Charing 
Cross. 

But it is a huge historical error to suppose 
that the Crusades concerned only that crust of 
society for which heraldry was an art and chivalry 
an etiquette. The direct contrary is the fact. 
The First Crusade especially was much more an 
unanimous popular rising than most that are 
called riots and revolutions. The Guilds, the 
great democratic systems of the time, often owed 
their increasing power to corporate fighting for 
the Cross ; but I shall deal with such things later. 
Often it was not so much a levy of men as a trek 
of whole families, like new gipsies moving east- 
wards. And it has passed into a proverb that 
children by themselves often organized a crusade 
as they now organize a charade. But we shall 
best realize the fact by fancying every Crusade as 
a Children's Crusade. They were full of all that 
the modern world worships in children, because it 
has crushed it out of men. Their lives were full, 
as the rudest remains of their vulgarest arts are 
full, of something that we all saw out of the 
nursery window. It can best be seen later, for 
instance, in the lanced and latticed interiors of 
Memling, but it is ubiquitous in the older and 
more unconscious contemporary art ; something 
that domesticated distant lands and made the 
horizon at home* They fitted into the corners of 
small houses the ends of the earth and the edges 
of the sky. Their perspective is rude and crazy, 
but it is perspective ; it is not the decorative flat- 

69 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

ness of orientalism. In a word, their world, like 
a child's, is full of foreshortening, as of a short cut 
to fairyland. Their maps are more provocative 
than pictures. Their half-fabulous animals are 
monsters, and yet are pets. It is impossible to 
state verbally this very vivid atmosphere ; but it 
was an atmosphere as well as an adventure. It 
was precisely these outlandish visions that truly 
came home to everybody ; it was the royal councils 
and feudal quarrels that were comparatively re- 
mote. The Holy Land was much nearer to a 
plain man's house than Westminster, and im- 
measurably nearer than Runymede. To give a 
list of English kings and parliaments, without 
pausing for a moment upon this prodigious pre- 
sence of a religious transfiguration in common 
life, is something the folly of which can but faintly 
be conveyed by a more modern parallel, with 
secularity and religion reversed. It is as if some 
Clericalist or Royalist writer should give a list of 
the Archbishops of Paris from 1750 to 1850, 
noting how one died of small-pox, another of old 
age, another by a curious accident of decapitation, 
and throughout all his record should never once 
mention the nature, or even the name, of the 
French Revolution. 



70 



VII 

THE PROBLEM OF THE PLANTA- 
GENETS 

IT is a point of prestige with what is called the 
Higher Criticism in all branches to proclaim that 
certain popular texts and authorities are "late," 
and therefore apparently worthless. Two similar 
events are always the same event, and the later 
alone is even credible. This fanaticism is often 
in mere fact mistaken ; it ignores the most 
common coincidences of human life : and some 
future critic will probably say that the tale of the 
Tower of Babel cannot be older than the Eiffel 
Tower, because there was certainly a confusion of 
tongues at the Paris Exhibition. Most of the 
mediaeval remains familiar to the modern reader 
are necessarily "late," such as Chaucer or the 
Robin Hood ballads ; but they are none the less, 
to a wiser criticism, worthy of attention and even 
trust. That which lingers after an epoch ^is 

fenerally that which lived most luxuriantly in it 
t is an excellent, habit to read history backwards. 
It is far wiser for a modern man to read the 
Middle Ages backwards from Shakespeare, whom 
he can judge for himself, and who yet is crammed 

7* 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

with the Middle Ages, than to attempt to read 
them forwards from Csedmon, of whom he can 
know nothing, and of whom even the authorities 
he must trust know very little. If this be true of 
Shakespeare, it is even truer, of course, of Chaucer. 
If we really want to know what was strongest in 
the twelfth century, it is no bad way to ask what re- 
mained of it in the fourteenth. When the average 
reader turns to the cc Canterbury Tales," which are 
still as amusing as Dickens yet as mediaeval as 
Durham Cathedral, what is the very first question 
to be asked ? Why, for instance, are they called 
Canterbury Tales ; and what were the pilgrims 
doing on the road to Canterbury ? They were, 
of course, taking part in a popular festival like a 
modern public holiday, though much more genial 
and leisurely. Nor are we, perhaps, prepared to 
accept it as a self-evident step in progress that 
their holidays were derived from saints, while ours 
are dictated by bankers. 

It is almost necessary to say nowadays that a 
saint means a very good man. The notion of an 
eminence merely moral, consistent with complete 
stupidity or unsuccess, is a revolutionary image 
grown unfamiliar by its very familiarity, and need- 
ing, as do so many things of this older society, 
some almost preposterous modern parallel to give 
its original freshness and point. If we entered a 
foreign town and found a pillar like the Nelson 
Column, we should be surprised to learn that the 
hero on the top of it had been famous for his 
politeness and hilarity during a chronic toothache* 

72 



PROBLEM OF THE PLANTAGENETS 

If a procession came down the street with a brass 
band and a hero on a white horse, we should 
think it odd to be told that he had been very 
patient with a half-witted maiden aunt. Yet 
some such pantomime impossibility is the only 
measure of the innovation of the Christian idea 
of a popular and recognized saint. It must 
especially be realized that while this kind of glory 
was the highest, it was also in a sense the lowest. 
The materials of it were almost the same as those 
of labour and domesticity : it did not need the 
sword or sceptre, but rather the staff or spade. 
It was the ambition of poverty. All this must 
be approximately visualized before we catch a 
glimpse of the great effects of the story which lay 
behind the Canterbury Pilgrimage. 

The first few lines of Chaucer's poem, to say- 
nothing of thousands in the course of it, make it 
instantly plain that it was no case of secular 
revels still linked by a slight ritual to the name 
of some forgotten god, as may have happened in 
the pagan decline. Chaucer and his friends did 
think about St. Thomas, at least more frequently 
than a clerk at Margate thinks about St. Lubbock. 
They did definitely believe in the bodily cures 
wrought for them through St. Thomas, at least 
as firmly as the most enlightened and progressive 
modern can believe in those of Mrs. Eddy. Who 
was St. Thomas, to whose shrine the whole of that 
society is thus seen in the act of moving ; and 
why was he so important ? If there be a streak 
of sincerity in the claim to teach social and demo- 

73 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

cratic history, instead of a string of kings and 
battles, this is the obvious and open gate by 
which to approach the figure which disputed Eng- 
land with the first Plantagenet. A real popular 
history should think more of his popularity even 
than his policy. And unquestionably thousands 
of ploughmen, carpenters, cooks, and yeomen, as 
in the motley crowd of Chaucer, knew a great 
deal about St. Thomas when they had never even 
heard of Becket. 

It would be easy to detail what followed the 
Conquest as the feudal tangle that it was, till 
a prince from Anjou repeated the unifying effort 
of the Conqueror. It is found equally easy to 
write of the Red King's hunting instead of his 
building, which has lasted longer, and which he 
probably loved much more. It is easy to cata- 
logue the questions he disputed with Anselm 
leaving out the question Anselm cared most 
about, and which he asked with explosive sim- 
plicity, as, " Why was God a man ? " All this is 
as simple as saying that a king died of eating 
lampreys, from which, however, there is little to 
learn nowadays, unless it be that when a modern 
monarch perishes of gluttony the newspapers 
seldom say so. But if we want to know what 
really happened to England in this dim epoch, 
I think it can be dimly but truly traced in the 
story of St Thomas of Canterbury. 

Henry of Anjou, who brought fresh French 
blood into the monarchy, brought also a refresh- 
ment of the idea for which the French have always 

74 



PROBLEM OF THE PLANTAGENETS 

stood : the idea in the Roman Law of something 
impersonal and omnipresent. It is the thing we 
smile at even in a small French detective story ; 
when Justice opens a handbag or Justice runs 
after a cab. Henry II. really produced this im- 
pression of being a police force in person ; a con- 
temporary priest compared his restless vigilance 
to the bird and the fish of scripture whose way no 
man knoweth. Kinghood, however, meant law 
and not caprice ; its ideal at least was a justice 
cheap and obvious as daylight, an atmosphere 
which lingers only in popular phrases about the 
King's English or the King's highway. But 
though it tended to be egalitarian it did not, of 
itself, tend to be humanitarian. In modern 
France, as in ancient Rome, the other name of 
Justice has sometimes been Terror. The French- 
man especially is always a Revolutionist and 
never an Anarchist. Now this effort of kings 
like Henry II. to rebuild on a plan like that of 
the Roman Law was not only, of course, crossed 
and entangled by countless feudal fancies and 
feelings in themselves as well as others, it was 
also conditioned by what was the corner-stone of 
the whole civilization. It had to happen not only 
with but within the Church. For a Church was 
to these men rather a world they lived in than a 
building to which they went. Without the Church 
the Middle Ages would have had no law, as 
without the Church the Reformation would have 
had no Bible. Many priests expounded and 
embellished the Roman Law, and many priests 

75 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

supported Henry IL And yet there was another 
element in the Church, stored in its first founda- 
tions like dynamite, and destined in every age 
to destroy and renew the world. An idealism 
akin to impossibilism ran down the ages parallel 
to all its political compromises. Monasticism 
itself was the throwing off of innumerable Utopias, 
without posterity yet with perpetuity. It had, as 
was proved recurrently after corrupt epochs, a 
strange secret of getting poor quickly ; a mush- 
room magnificence of destitution. This wind of 
revolution in the crusading time caught Francis 
in Assissi and stripped him of his rich garments 
in the street. The same wind of revolution 
suddenly smote Thomas Becket, King Henry's 
brilliant and luxurious Chancellor, and drove him 
on to an unearthly glory and a bloody end. 

Becket was a type of those historic times in 
which it is really very practical to be impractic- 
able* The quarrel which tore him from his 
friend's side cannot be appreciated in the light 
of those legal and constitutional debates which 
the misfortunes of the seventeenth century have 
made so much of in more regent history. To 
convict St. Thomas of illegality and clerical 
intrigue, when he set the law of the Church 
against that of the State, is about as adequate as 
to convict St. Francis of bad heraldry when he 
said he was the brother of the sun and moon. 
There may have been heralds stupid enough to 
say so even in that much more logical age, but 
it is no sufficient way of dealing with visions or 

76 



PROBLEM OF THE PLANTAGENETS 

with revolutions. St. Thomas of Canterbury was 
a great visionary and a great revolutionist^ but 
so far as England was concerned his revolution 
failed and his vision was not fulfilled. We are 
therefore told in the text-books little more than 
that he wrangled with the King about certain 
regulations ; the most crucial being whether 
<c criminous clerks " should be punished by the 
State or the Church. And this was indeed the 
chief text of the dispute ; but to realise it we 
must reiterate what is hardest for modern England 
to understand the nature of the Catholic Church 
when it was itself a government, and the per- 
manent sense in which it was itself a revolution. 

It is always the first fact that escapes notice ; 
and the first fact about the Church was that it 
created a machinery of pardon, where the State 
could only work with a machinery of punishment. 
It claimed to be a divine detective who helped the 
criminal to escape by a plea of guilty. It was, 
therefore, in the very nature of the institution, 
that when it did punish materially it punished 
more lightly. If any modern man were put 
back in the Becket quarrel, his sympathies would 
certainly be torn in two ; for if the King's scheme 
was the more rational, the Archbishop's was the 
more humane. And despite the horrors that 
darkened religious disputes long afterwards, this 
character was certainly in the bulk the historic 
character of Church government. It is admitted, 
for Instance, that things like eviction, or the harsh 
treatment of tenants, were practically unknown 

77 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

wherever the Church was landlord. The principle 
lingered into more evil days in the form by which 
the Church authorities handed over culprits to 
the secular arm to be killed, even for religious 
offences. In modern romances this is treated as 
a mere hypocrisy ; but the man who treats every 
human inconsistency as a hypocrisy is himself a 
hypocrite about his own inconsistencies. 

Our world, then, cannot understand St. Thomas, 
any more than St. Francis, without accepting very 
simply a flaming and even fantastic charity, by 
which the great Archbishop undoubtedly stands 
for the victims of this world, where the wheel of 
fortune grinds the faces of the poor. He may 
well have been too idealistic ; he wished to pro- 
tect the Church as a sort of earthly paradise, of 
which the rules might seem to him as paternal as 
those of heaven, but might well seem to the King 
as capricious as those of fairyland. But if the 
priest was too idealistic, the King was really too 
practical ; it is intrinsically true to say he was too 
practical to succeed in practice. There re-enters 
here, and runs, I think, through all English 
history, the rather indescribable truth I have 
suggested about the Conqueror ; that perhaps he 
was hardly impersonal enough for a pure despot. 
The real moral of our mediaeval story is, I think, 
subtly contrary to Carlyle's vision of a stormy 
strong man to hammer and weld the state like 
a smith. Our strong men were too strong for 
us, and too strong for themselves. They were 
too strong for their own aim of a just and equal 

78 



PROBLEM OF THE PLANTAGENETS 

monarchy. The smith broke upon the anvil the 
sword of state that he was hammering for himself. 
Whether or no this will serve as a key to the 
very complicated story of our kings and barons, 
it is the exact posture of Henry II. to his rival. 
He became lawless out of sheer love of law. He 
also stood, though in a colder and more remote 
manner, for the whole people against feudal 
oppression ; and if his policy had succeeded in 
its purity, it would at least have made impossible 
the privilege and capitalism of later times. But 
that bodily restlessness which stamped and 
spurned the furniture was a symbol of him ; it 
was some such thing that prevented him and his 
heirs from sitting as quietly on their throne as 
the heirs of St Louis. He thrust again and 
again at the tough intangibility of the priests' 
Utopianism like a man fighting a ghost ; he 
answered transcendental defiances with basei 
material persecutions ; and at last, on a dark 
and, I think, decisive day in English history, his 
word sent four feudal murderers into the cloisters 
of Canterbury, who went there to destroy a 
traitor and who created a saint. 

At the grave of the dead man broke forth 
what can only be called an epidemic of heal- 
ing. For miracles so narrated there is the same 
evidence as for half the facts of history ; and 
any one denying them must deny flhem upon a 
dogma. But something followed which would 
seem to modern civilization even more monstrous 
than a miracle. If the reader can imagine Mr, 

79 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Cecil Rhodes submitting to be horsewhipped by 
a Boer in St. PauTs Cathedral, as an apology for 
some indefensible death incidental to the Jameson 
Raid, he will form but a faint idea of what was 
meant when Henry II. was beaten by monks at 
the tomb of his vassal and enemy. The modern 
parallel called up is comic, but the truth is that 
mediaeval actualities have a violence that does 
seem comic to our conventions. The Catholics 
of that age were driven by two dominant thoughts : 
the all-importance of penitence as an answer to 
sin, and the all-importance of vivid and evident 
external acts as a proof of penitence. Extravagant 
humiliation after extravagant pride for them 
restored the balance of sanity. The point is 
worth stressing, because without it moderns make 
neither head nor tail of the period. Green gravely 
suggests, for instance, of Henry's ancestor Fulk 
of Anjou, that his tyrannies and frauds were 
further blackened by "low superstition," which 
led him to be dragged in a halter round a shrine, 
scourged and screaming for the mercy of God. 
Medisevals would simply have said that such a 
man might well scream for it, but his scream 
was the only logical comment he could make. 
But they would have quite refused to see why 
the scream should be added to the sins and not 
subtracted from them. They would have thought 
it simply "muddle-headed to have the same horror 
at a man for being horribly sinful and for being 
horribly sorry. 

But it may be suggested, I think, though with 
80 



PROBLEM OF THE PLANTAGENETS 

the doubt proper to ignorance, that the Angevin 
ideal of the King's justice lost more by the death 
of St. Thomas than was instantly apparent in the 
horror of Christendom, the canonization of the 
victim and the public penance of the tyrant. 
These things indeed were in a sense temporary ; 
the King recovered the power to judge clerics, 
and many later kings and justiciars continued the 
monarchical plan. But I would suggest, as a 
possible clue to puzzling after events, that here 
and by this murderous stroke the crown lost what 
should have been the silent and massive support 
of its whole policy. I mean that it lost the 
people* 

It need not be repeated that the case for 
despotism is democratic. As a rule its cruelty 
to the strong is kindness to the weak. An auto- 
crat cannot be judged as a historical character by 
his relations with other historical characters. His 
true applause comes not from the few actors on 
the lighted stage of aristocracy, but from that 
enormous audience which must always sit in 
darkness throughout the drama. The king who 
helps numberless helps nameless men, and when 
he flings his widest largesse he is a Christian 
doing good by stealth. This sort of monarchy 
was certainly a mediaeval ideal, nor need it neces- 
sarily fail as a reality. French kings were never 
so merciful to the people as when they were 
merciless to the peers ; and it is probably true 
that a Czar who was a great lord to his intimates 
was often a little father in innumerable little 

Si 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

homes. It is overwhelmingly probable that such 
a central power, though it might at kst have 
deserved destruction in England as in France, 
would in Engknd as in France have prevented 
the few from seizing and holding all the wealth 
and power to this day. But in England it broke 
off short, through something of which the slaying 
of St. Thomas may well have been the supreme 
example. It was something overstrained and 
startling and against the instincts of the people. 
And of what was meant in the Middle Ages by 
that very powerful and rather peculiar thing, the 
people, I shall speak in the next chapter. 

In any case this conjecture finds support in 
the ensuing events. It is not merely that, just 
as the great but personal plan of the Conqueror 
collapsed after all into the chaos of the Stephen 
transition, so the great but personal plan of the 
first Plantagenet collapsed into the chaos of the 
Barons' Wars. When all allowance is made for 
constitutional fictions and afterthoughts, it does 
seem likely that here for the first time some 
moral strength deserted the monarchy. The 
character of Henry's second son John (for Richard 
belongs rather to the last chapter) stamped it with 
something accidental and yet symbolic. It was 
not that John was a mere black blot on the pure 
gold of the Pkntagenets, the texture was much 
more mixed and continuous ; but he really was 
a discredited Plantagenet, and as it were a 
damaged Plantagenet. It was not that he was 
much more of a bad man than many opposed to 

82 



PROBLEM OF THE PLANTAGENETS 

him, but he was the kind of bad man whom bad 
men and good do combine to oppose. In a sense 
subtler than that of the legal and parliamentary 
logic-chopping invented long afterwards, he cer- 
tainly managed to put the Crown in the wrong. 
Nobody suggested that the barons of Stephen's 
time starved men in dungeons to promote political 
liberty, or hung them up by the heels as a sym- 
bolic request for a free parliament. In the reign 
of John and his son it was still the barons, and 
not in the least the people, who seized the power ; 
but there did begin to appear a case for their 
seizing it, for contemporaries as well as constitu- 
tional historians afterwards. John, in one of his 
diplomatic doublings, had put England into the 
papal care, as an estate is put in Chancery. And 
unluckily the Pope, whose counsels had generally 
been mild and liberal, was then in his death- 
grapple with the Germanic Emperor and wanted 
every penny he could get to win. His winning 
was a blessing to Europe, but a curse to England, 
for he used the island as a mere treasury for this 
foreign war. In this and other matters the 
baronial party began to have something like a 
principle, which is the backbone of a policy. 
Much conventional history that connects their 
councils with a thing like our House of Commons 
is as far-fetched as it would be to say that the 
Speaker wields a Mace like those which the barons 
brandished in battle. Simon de Montfort was 
not an enthusiast for the Whig theory of the 
British Constitution, but he was an enthusiast 

83 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

for something. He founded a parliament in a 
fit of considerable absence of mind ; but it was 
with true presence of mind, in the responsible 
and even religious sense which had made his 
father so savage a Crusader against heretics, that 
he laid about him with his great sword before he 
fell at Evesham. 

Magna Carta was not a step towards demo- 
cracy, but it was a step away from despotism. If 
we hold that double truth firmly, we have some- 
thing like a key to the rest of English history. 
A rather loose aristocracy not only gained but 
often deserved the name of liberty. And the 
history of the English can be most briefly sum- 
marized by taking the French motto of <c Liberty, 
Equality, and Fraternity," and noting that the 
English have sincerely loved the first and lost the 
other two. 

In the contemporary complication much could 
be urged both for the Crown and the new and 
more national rally of the nobility. But it was 
a complication, whereas a miracle is a plain 
matter that any man can understand. The possi- 
bilities or impossibilities of St. Thomas Becket 
were left a riddle for history ; the white flame of 
his audacious theocracy was frustrated, and his 
work cut short like a fairy tale left untold. But 
his memory passed into the care of the common 
people, and with them he was more active dead 
than alive yes, even more busy. In the next 
chapter we shall consider what was meant in the 
Middle Ages by the common people, and how 

84 



PROBLEM OF THE PLANTAGENETS 

uncommon we should think it to-day. And in 
the last chapter we have already seen how in the 
Crusading age the strangest things grew homely, 
and men fed on travellers' tales when there were 
no national newspapers. A many - coloured 
pageant of martyrology on numberless walls and 
windows had familiarized the most ignorant with 
alien cruelties in many climes ; with a bishop 
flayed by Danes or a virgin burned by Saracens, 
with one saint stoned by Jews and another hewn 
in pieces by negroes. I cannot think it was a 
small matter that among these images one of the 
most magnificent had met his death but lately at 
the hands of an English monarch. There was at 
least something akin to the primitive and epical 
romances of that period in the tale of those two 
mighty friends, one of whom struck too hard and 
slew the other. It may even have been so early 
as this that something was judged in silence ; and 
for the multitude rested on the Crown a mysterious 
seal of insecurity like that of Cain, and of exile 
on the English kings. 



VIII 
THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

THE mental trick by which the first half of 
English history has been wholly dwarfed and 
dehumanized is a very simple one. It consists in 
telling only the story of the professional destroyers 
and then complaining that the whole story is one 
of destruction. A king is at the best a sort of 
crowned executioner ; all government is an ugly 
necessity ; and if it was then uglier it was for the 
most part merely because it was more difficult 
What we call the Judges' circuits were first rather 
the ICing's raids. For a time the criminal class 
was -so strong that ordinary civil government was 
conducted by a sort of civil wan When the 
social enemy was caught at all he was killed or 
savagely maimed. The King could not take 
Pentonville Prison about with him on wheels. 
I am far from denying that there was a real 
element of cruelty in the Middle Ages ; but the 
point here is that it was concerned with one side 
of life, which is cruel at the best ; and that this 
involved more cruelty for the same reason that it 
involved more courage. When we think of our 
ancestors as the men who inflicted tortures, we 

86 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

ought sometimes to think of them as the men 
who defied them. But the modern critic of 
medievalism commonly looks only at these 
crooked shadows and not at the common daylight 
of the Middle Ages. When he has got over his 
indignant astonishment at the fact that fighters 
fought and that hangmen hanged, he assumes 
that any other ideas there may have been were 
ineffectual and fruitless. He despises the monk 
for avoiding the very same activities which he 
despises the warrior for cultivating. And he in- 
sists that the arts of war were sterile, without 
even admitting the possibility that the arts of 
peace were productive. But the truth is that it 
is precisely in the arts of peace, and in the type 
of production, that the Middle Ages stand sin- 
gular and unique. This is not eulogy but history ; 
an informed man must recognize this productive 
peculiarity even if he happens to hate it. The 
melodramatic things currently called mediaeval 
are much older and more universal ; such as the 
sport of tournament or the use of torture. The 
tournament was indeed a Christian and liberal 
advance on the gladiatorial show, since the lords 
risked themselves and not merely their slaves. 
Torture, so far from being peculiarly mediaeval, 
was copied from pagan Rome and its most 
rationalist political science ; and its application to 
others besides slaves was really part of the slow 
mediaeval extinction of slavery. Torture, indeed, 
is a logical thing common in states innocent of 
fanaticism, as in the great agnostic empire of 

8? 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

China. What was really arresting and remark- 
able about the Middle Ages, as the Spartan dis- 
cipline was peculiar to Sparta, or the Russian 
communes typical of Russia, was precisely its 
positive social scheme of production, of the 
making, building and growing of all the good 
things of life. 

For the tale told in a book like this cannot 
really touch on mediaeval England at all. The 
dynasties and the parliaments passed like a chang- 
ing cloud and across a stable and fruitful land- 
scape. The institutions which affected the masses 
can be compared to corn or fruit trees in one 
practical sense at least, that they grew upwards 
from below. There may have been better socie- 
ties, and assuredly we have not to look far for 
worse ; but it is doubtful if there was ever so 
spontaneous a society. We cannot do justice, 
for instance, to the local government of that 
epoch, even where it was very faulty and frag- 
mentary, by any comparisons with the plans of 
local government laid down to-day. Modern 
local government always comes from above ; it is 
at best granted ; it is more often merely imposed. 
The modern English oligarchy, the modern 
German Empire, are necessarily more efficient in 
making municipalities upon a plan, or rather a 
pattern. The medisevals not only had self- 
government, but their self-government was self- 
made. They did indeed, as the central powers 
of the national monarchies grew stronger, seek 
and procure the stamp of state approval ; but it 

88 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

was approval of a popular fact already in exist- 
ence. Men banded together in guilds and 
parishes long before Local Government Acts were 
dreamed of. Like charity, which was worked in 
the same way, their Home Rule began at home. 
The reactions of recent centuries have left most 
educated men bankrupt of the corporate imagi- 
nation required even to imagine this. They only 
think of a mob as a thing that breaks things 
even if they admit it is right to break them. 
But the mob made these things. An artist 
mocked as many-headed, an artist with many 
eyes and hands, created these masterpieces. And 
if the modern sceptic, in his detestation of the 
democratic ideal, complains of my calling them 
masterpieces, a simple answer will for the moment 
serve. It is enough to reply that the very word 
cc masterpiece " is borrowed from the terminology 
of the mediaeval craftsmen. But such points in 
the Guild System can be considered a little later ; 
here we are only concerned with the quite spon- 
taneous springing upwards of all these social 
institutions, such as they were. They rose in 
the streets like a silent rebellion ; like a still and 
statuesque riot. In modern constitutional coun- 
tries there are practically no political institutions 
thus given by the people ; all are received by the 
people. There is only one thing that stands in 
our midst, attenuated and threatened, but en- 
throned in some power like a ghost of the Middle 
Ages : the Trades Unions. 

In agriculture, what had happened to the land 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

was like a universal landslide. But by a prodigy 
beyond the catastrophes of geology it may be 
said that the land had slid uphill. Rural civiliza- 
tion was on a wholly new and much higher level ; 
yet there was no great social convulsions or 
apparently even great social campaigns to explain 
it* It is possibly a solitary instance in history of 
men thus falling upwards ; at least of outcasts 
falling on their feet or vagrants straying into the 
promised land. Such a thing could not be and 
was not a mere accident ; yet, if we go by con- 
scious political plans, it was something like a 
miracle. There had appeared, like a subterranean 
race cast up to the sun, something unknown to 
the august civilization of the Roman Empire a 
peasantry. At the beginning of the Dark Ages 
the great pagan cosmopolitan society now grown 
Christian was as much a slave state as old South 
Carolina. By the fourteenth century it was almost 
as much a state of peasant proprietors as modern 
France. No laws had been passed against slavery ; 
no dogmas even had condemned it by definition ; 
no war had been waged against it, no new race or 
ruling caste had repudiated it ; but it was gone. 
This startling and silent transformation is perhaps 
the best measure of the pressure of popular life 
in the Middle Ages, of how fast it was making 
new things in its spiritual factory. Like every- 
thing else in the mediaeval revolution, from its 
cathedrals to its ballads, it was as anonymous as 
it was enormous. It is admitted that the con- 
scious and active emancipators everywhere were 

90 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

the parish priests and the religious brotherhoods ; 
but no name among them has survived and no 
man of them has reaped his reward in this world. 
Countless Clarksons and innumerable Wilber- 
forces, without political machinery or public fame, 
worked at death-beds and confessionals in all the 
villages of Europe ; and the vast system of slavery 
vanished. It was probably the widest work ever 
done which was voluntary on both sides ; and the 
Middle Ages was in this and other things the age 
of volunteers. It is possible enough to state 
roughly the stages through which the thing passed ; 
but such a statement does not explain the loosen- 
ing of the grip of the greafc slave-owners ; and 
it cannot be explained except psychologically. 
The Catholic type of Christianity was not merely 
an element, it was a climate ; and in that climate 
the slave would not grow. I have already sug- 
gested, touching that transformation of the Roman 
Empire which was the background of all these 
centuries, how a mystical view of man's dignity 
must have this effect. A table that walked and 
talked, or a stool that flew with wings out of 
window, would be about as workable a thing as 
an immortal chattel. But though here as every- 
where the spirit explains the processes, and the 
processes cannot even plausibly explain the spirit, 
these processes involve two very practical points, 
without which we cannot understand how this 
great popular civilization was created or how it 
was destroyed. 

What we call the manors were originally the 

91 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

villae of the pagan lords, each with its population 
of slaves. Under this process, however it be 
explained, what had occurred was the diminish- 
ment of the lords' claim to the whole profit of a 
slave estate, by which it became a claim to the 
profit of part of it, and dwindled at last to certain 
dues or customary payments to the lord, having 
paid which the slave could enjoy not only the use 
of the land but the profit of it. It must be re- 
membered that over a great part, and especially 
very important parts, of the whole territory, the 
lords were abbots, magistrates elected by a mysti- 
cal communism and themselves often of peasant 
birth. Men not only obtained a fair amount 
of justice under their care, but a fair amount of 
freedom even from their carelessness. But two 
details of the development are very vital. First, 
as has been hinted elsewhere, the slave was long 
in the intermediate status of a serf. This meant 
that while the land was entitled to the services 
of the man, he was equally entitled to the support 
of the land. He could not be evicted ; he could 
not even, in the modern fashion, have his rent 
raised. At the beginning it was merely that the 
slave was owned, but at least he could not be 
disowned. At the end he had really become a 
small landlord, merely because it was not the 
lord that owned him, but the land. It is hardly 
unsafe to suggest that in this (by one of the 
paradoxes of this extraordinary period) the very 
fixity of serfdom was a service to freedom. The 
new peasant inherited something of the stability 

92 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

of the slave. He did not come to life in a com- 
petitive scramble where everybody was trying to 
snatch his freedom from him. He found himself 
among neighbours who already regarded his pre- 
sence as normal and his frontiers as natural 
frontiers, and among whom all-powerful customs 
crushed all experiments in competition. By a 
trick or overturn no romancer has dared to put in 
a tale, this prisoner had become the governor of 
his own prison. For a little time it was almost 
true that an Englishman's house was his castle, 
because it had been built strong enough to be his 
dungeon. 

The other notable element was this : that 
when the produce of the land began by custom to 
be cut up and only partially transmitted to the 
lord, the remainder was generally subdivided 
into two types of property. One the serfs enjoyed 
severally, in private patches, while the other they 
enjoyed in common, and generally in common 
with the lord. Thus arose the momentously 
important mediaeval institutions of the Common 
Land, owned side by side with private land. 
It was an alternative and a refuge. The mediae- 
vals, except when they were monks, were none 
of them Communists ; but they were all, as 
it were, potential Communists. It is typical of 
the dark and dehumanized picture now drawn 
of the period that our romances constantly de- 
scribe a broken man as falling back on the forests 
and the outlaw's den, but never describe him 
as falling back on the common land, which was 

93 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

a much more common incident. Medievalism 
believed in mending its broken men ; and as 
the idea existed in the communal life for monks, 
it existed in the communal land for peasants. 
It was their great green hospital, their free and 
airy workhouse. A Common was not a naked 
and negative thing like the scrub or heath we 
call a Common on the edges of the suburbs. 
It was a reserve of wealth like a reserve of grain 
in a barn ; it was deliberately kept back as a 
balance, as we talk of a balance at the bank. 
Now these provisions for a healthier distribution 
of property would by themselves show any man 
of imagination that a real moral effort had been 
made towards social justice ; that it could not 
have been mere evolutionary accident that slowly 
turned the slave into a serf, and the serf into a 
peasant proprietor. But if anybody still thinks 
that mere blind luck, without any groping for 
the light, had somehow brought about the peasant 
condition in place of the agrarian slave estate, he 
has only to turn to what was happening in all the 
other callings and affairs of humanity. Then he 
will cease to doubt For he will find the same 
mediaeval men busy upon a social scheme which 
points as plainly in effect to pity and a craving 
for equality. And it is a system which could no 
more be produced by accident than one of their 
cathedrals could be built by an earthquake. 

Most work beyond the primary work of agri- 
culture was guarded by the egalitarian vigilance 
of the Guilds. It is hard to find any term to 

94 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

measure the distance between this system and 
modern society ; one can only approach it first 
by the faint traces it has left. Our daily life 
is littered with a debris of the Middle Ages, 
especially of dead words which no longer carry 
their meaning. I have already suggested one 
example. We hardly call up the picture of a 
return to Christian Communism whenever we 
mention Wimbledon Common. This truth de- 
scends to such trifles as the titles which we write 
on letters and postcards. The puzzling and 
truncated monosyllable " Esq." is a pathetic relic 
of a remote evolution from chivalry to snobbery. 
No two historic things could well be more different 
than an esquire and a squire. The first was above 
all things an incomplete and probationary position 
the tadpole of knighthood ; the second is above 
all things a complete and assured position the 
status of the owners and rulers of rural England 
throughout recent centuries. Our esquires did 
not win their estates till they had given up any 
particular fancy for winning their spurs. Esquire 
does not mean squire, and esq. does not mean 
anything. But it remains on our letters a little 
wriggle in pen and ink and an indecipherable 
hieroglyph twisted by the strange turns of our 
history, which have turned a military discipline 
into a pacific oligarchy, and that into a mere 
plutocracy at last. And there are similar historic 
riddles to be unpicked in the similar forms of 
social address. There is something singularly 
forlorn about the modern word " Mister." Even 

95 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

in sound it has a simpering feebleness which 
marks the shrivelling of the strong word from 
which it came. Nor, indeed, is the symbol^ of 
the mere sound inaccurate. I remember seeing 
a German story of Samson in which he bore the 
unassuming name of Simson, which surely shows 
Samson very much shorn. There is something 
of the same dismal diminuendo in the evolution of 
a Master into a Mister. 

The very vital importance of the word 
" Master " is this. A Guild was, very broadly 
speaking, a Trade Union in which every man 
was his own employer. That is, a man could 
not work at any trade unless he would join the 
league and accept the laws of that trade ; but he 
worked in his own shop with his own tools, and 
the whole profit went to himself. But the word 
"employer" marks a modern deficiency which 
makes the modern use of the word " master " 
quite inexact. A master meant something quite 
other and greater than a "boss.* 1 It meant a 
master of the work, where it now means only a 
master of the workmen. It is an elementary 
character of Capitalism that a shipowner need not 
know the right end of a ship, or a landowner have 
even seen the landscape, that the owner of a gold- 
, mine may be interested in nothing but old pewter, 
or the owner of a railway travel exclusively in 
balloons. He may be a more successful capitalist 
if he has a hobby of his own business ; he is 
often a more successful capitalist if he has the 
sense to leave it to a manager ; but economically 

96 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

he can control the business because he is a 
capitalist, not because he has any kind of hobby 
or any kind of sense. The highest grade in 
the Guild system was a Master, and it meant a 
mastery of the business. To take the term created 
by the colleges in the same epoch, all the mediaeval 
bosses were Masters of Arts. The other grades 
were the journeyman and the apprentice ; but 
like the corresponding degrees at the universities, 
they were grades through which every common 
man could pass. They were not social classes ; 
they were degrees and not castes. This is the 
whole point of the recurrent romance about the 
apprentice marrying his master's daughter. The 
master would not be surprised at such a thing, 
any more than an M.A. would swell with aristo- 
cratic indignation when his daughter married a 
B.A. 

When we pass from the strictly educational 
hierarchy to the strictly egalitarian ideal, we find 
again that the remains of the thing to-day are so 
distorted and disconnected as to be comic. Therfe 
are City Companies which inherit the coats of 
arms and the immense relative wealth of the old 
Guilds, and inherit nothing else. Even what is 
good about them is not what was good about the 
Guilds. In one case we shall find something like 
a Worshipful Company of Bricklayers, in which, 
it is unnecessary to say, there is not a single 
bricklayer or anybody who has ever known a 
bricklayer, but in which the senior partners of a 
few big businesses in the City, with a few faded 

97 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

military men with a taste in cookery, tell 
each other in after-dinner speeches that it has 
been the glory of their lives to make allegorical 
bricks without straw. In another case we shall 
find a Worshipful Company of Whitewashers who 
do deserve their name, in the sense that many of 
them employ a large number of other people to 
whitewash. These Companies support large 
charities and often doubtless very valuable chari- 
ties ; but their object is quite different from that 
of the old charities of the Guilds. The aim of 
the Guild charities was the same as the aim of the 
Common Land. It was to resist inequality or, 
as some earnest old gentlemen of the last genera- 
tion would probably put it, to resist evolution. 
It was to ensure, not only that bricklaying should 
survive and succeed, but that every bricklayer 
should survive and succeed. It sought to rebuild 
the ruins of any bricklayer, and to give any faded 
whitewasher a new white coat It was the whole 
aim of the Guilds to cobble their cobblers like 
their shoes and clout their clothiers with their 
clothes ; to strengthen the weakest link, or go 
after the hundredth sheep ; in short, to keep the 
row of little shops unbroken like a line of battle. 
It resisted the growth of a big shop like the 
growth of a dragon. Now even the whitewashes 
of the Whitewashers Company will not pretend 
that it exists to prevent a small shop being 
swallowed by a big shop, or that it has done 
anything whatever to prevent it. At the best 
the kindness it would show to a bankrupt white- 

98 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

washer would be a kind of compensation ; it 
would not be reinstatement ; it would not be the 
restoration of status in an industrial system. So 
careful of the type it seems, so careless of the 
single life ; and by that very modern evolutionary 
philosophy the type itself has been destroyed. 
The old Guilds, with the same object of equality, 
of course, insisted peremptorily upon the same 
level system of payment and treatment which is 
a point of complaint against the modern Trades 
Unions. But they insisted also, as the Trades 
Unions cannot do, upon a high standard of crafts- 
manship, which still astonishes the world in the 
corners of perishing buildings or the colours of 
broken glass. There is no artist or art critic who 
will not concede, however distant his own style 
from the Gothic school, that there was in this 
time a nameless but universal artistic touch in the 
moulding of the very tools of life. Accident has 
preserved the rudest sticks and stools and pots 
and pans which have suggestive shapes as if they 
were possessed not by devils but by elves. For 
they were, indeed, as compared with subsequent 
systems, produced in the incredible fairyland of 
a free country* 

That the most mediaeval of modern institu- 
tions, the Trades Unions, do not fight for the 
same ideal of aesthetic finish is true and certainly 
tragic ; but to make it a matter of blame is 
wholly to misunderstand the tragedy. The 
Trades Unions are confederations of men with- 
out property, seeking to balance its absence by 

09 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

numbers and the necessary character of their 
labour. The Guilds were confederations of men 
with property, seeking to ensure each man in the 
possession of that property. This is, of course, 
the only condition of affairs in which property 
can properly be said to exist at all. We should 
not speak of a negro community in which most 
men were white, but the rare negroes were giants. 
We should not conceive a married community in 
which most men were bachelors, and three men 
had harems. A married community means a 
community where most people are married ; not 
a community where one or two people are 
very much married. A propertied community 
means a community where most people have 
property ; not a community where there are 
a few capitalists. But in fact the Guildsmen 
(as also, for that matter, the serfs, semi-serfs 
and peasants) were much richer than can be 
realized even from the fact that the Guilds pro- 
tected the possession of houses, tools, and just 
payment. The surplus is self-evident upon any 
just study of the prices of the period, when all 
deductions have been made, of course, for the 
different value of the actual coinage. When a 
man could get a goose or a gallon of ale for one 
or two of the smallest and commonest coins, the 
matter is in no way affected by the name of those 
coins. Even where the individual wealth was 
severely limited, the collective wealth was very 
large the wealth of the Guilds, of the parishes, 
and especially of the monastic estates. It is 

100 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

important to remember this fact in the sub- 
sequent history of England. 

The next ract to note is that the local govern- 
ment grew out of things like the Guild system, 
and not the system from the government. In 
sketching the sound principles of this lost society, 
I shall not, of course, be supposed by any sane 
person to be describing a moral paradise, or to be 
implying that it was free from the faults and 
fights and sorrows that harass human life in all 
times, and certainly not least in our own time. 
There was a fair amount of rioting and fighting 
in connection with the Guilds ; and there was 
especially for some time a combative rivalry 
between the guilds of merchants who sold things 
and those of craftsmen who made them, a conflict 
in which the craftsmen on the whole prevailed. 
But whichever party may have been predominant, 
it was the heads of the Guild who became the 
heads of the town, and not vice versa. The stiff 
survivals of this once very spontaneous uprising 
can again be seen in the now anomalous constitu- 
tion of the Lord Mayor and the Livery of the 
City of London. We are told so monotonously 
that the government of our fathers reposed upon 
arms, that it is valid to insist that this, their most 
intimate and everyday sort of government, was 
wholly based upon tools ; a government in which 
the workman's tool became the sceptre. Blake, 
in one of his symbolic fantasies, suggests that in 
the Golden Age the gold and gems should be 
taken from the hilt of the sword and put upon 

101 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

the handle of the plough. But something very 
like this did happen in the interlude of this 
mediaeval democracy, fermenting under the crust 
of mediaeval monarchy and aristocracy ; where 
productive implements often took on the pomp 
of heraldry. The Guilds often exhibited emblems 
and pageantry so compact of their most prosaic 
uses, that we can only parallel them by imagining 
armorial tabards, or even religious vestments, 
woven out of a navvy's corduroys or a coster's 
pearl buttons. 

Two more points must be briefly added ; and 
the rough sketch of this now foreign and even 
fantastic state will be as complete as it can be 
made here. Both refer to the links between this 
popular life and the politics which are convention- 
ally the whole of history. The first, and for that 
age the most evident, is the Charter. To recur 
once more to the parallel of Trades Unions, as 
convenient for the casual reader of to-day, the 
Charter of a Guild roughly corresponded to that 
"recognition" for which the railwaymen and 
other trades unionists asked some years ago, with- 
out success. By this they had the authority 
of the King, the central or national govern- 
ment ; and this was of great moral weight with 
mediaevals, who always conceived of freedom as 
a positive status, not as a negative escape : they 
had none of the modern romanticism which makes 
liberty akin to loneliness. Their view remains in 
the phrase about giving a man the freedom of a 
city : they had no desire to give him the freedom 

1 02 



THE MEANING OF MERRY ENGLAND 

of a wilderness. To say that they had also the 
authority of the Church is something of an under- 
statement ; for religion ran like a rich thread 
through the rude tapestry of these popular things 
while they were still merely popular ; and many 
a trade society must have had a patron saint long 
before it had a royal seal. The other point is 
that it was from these municipal groups already in 
existence that the first men were chosen for the 
largest and perhaps the last of the great mediaeval 
experiments : the Parliament. 

We have all read at school that Simon de 
Montfort and Edward I;, when they first sum- 
moned Commons to council, chiefly as advisers 
on local taxation, called <c two burgesses " from 
every town. If we had read a little more closely, 
those simple words would have given away the 
whole secret of the lost mediaeval civilization. 
We had only to ask what burgesses were, and 
whether they grew on trees. We should im- 
mediately have discovered that England was full 
of little parliaments, out of which the great 
parliament was made. And if it be a matter of 
wonder that the great council (still called in 
quaint archaism by its old title of the House of 
Commons) is the only one of these popular or 
elective corporations of which we hear much in 
our books of history, the explanation, I fear, is 
simple and a little sad. It is that the Parliament 
was the one among these mediaeval creations 
which ultimately consented to betray and to 
destroy the rest. 

103 



IX 

NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH 
WARS 

IF any one wishes to know what we mean when 
we say that Christendom was and is one culture, 
or one civilization, there is a rough but plain way 
of putting it. It is by asking what is the most 
common, or rather the most commonplace, of all 
the uses of the word " Christian." There is, of 
course, the highest use of all ; but it has nowa- 
days many other uses. Sometimes a Christian 
means an Evangelical. Sometimes, and more 
recently, a Christian means a Quaker. Some- 
times a Christian means a modest person who 
believes that he bears a resemblance to Christ. 
But it has long had one meaning in casual 
speech among common people, and it means a 
culture or a civilization. Ben Gunn on Treasure 
Island did not actually say to Jim Hawkins, 
<C I feel myself out of touch with a certain 
type of civilization " ; but he did say, " I haven't 
tasted Christian food." The old wives in a 
village looking at a lady with short hair and 
trousers do not indeed say, "We perceive a 
divergence between her culture and our own " ; 
104 



NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH WARS 

but they do say, " Why can't she dress like a 
Christian ? " That the sentiment has thirs 
soaked down to the simplest and even stupidest 
daily talk is but one evidence that Christendom 
was a very real thing. But it was also, as we 
have seen, a very localized thing, especially in the 
Middle Ages. And that very lively localism the 
Christian faith and affections encouraged led at 
last to an excessive and exclusive parochialism. 
There were rival shrines of the same saint, and a 
sort of duel between two statues of the same 
divinity. By a process it is now our difficult 
duty to follow, a real estrangement between 
European peoples began. Men began to feel that 
foreigners did not eat or drink like Christians, 
and even, when the philosophic schism came, to 
doubt if they were Christians. 

There was, indeed, much more than this 
involved. While the internal structure of medise- 
valism was thus parochial and largely popular, in 
the greater affairs, and especially the external 
affairs, such as peace and war, most (though by 
no means all) of what was mediaeval was monar- 
chical. To see what the kings came to mean we 
must glance back at the great background, as of 
darkness and daybreak, against which the first 
figures of our history have already appeared. 
That background was the war with the barbarians. 
While it lasted Christendom was not only one 
nation but more like one city and a besieged 
city. Wessex was but one wall or Paris one 
tower of it ; and in one tongue and spirit Bede 

105 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

might have chronicled the siege of Paris or Abbo 
sung the song of Alfred What followed was a 
conquest and a conversion ; all the end of the 
Dark Ages and the dawn of medievalism is full 
of the evangelizing of barbarism. And it is the 
paradox of the Crusades that though the Saracen 
was superficially more civilized than the Christian, 
it was a sound instinct which saw him also to be 
in spirit a destroyer. In the simpler case of 
northern heathenry the civilization spread with 
a simpler progress. But it was not till the end 
of the Middle Ages, and close on the Reforma- 
tion, that the people of Prussia, the wild land 
lying beyond Germany, were baptized at all. A 
flippant person, if he permitted himself a profane 
confusion with vaccination, might almost be in- 
clined to suggest that for some reason it didn't 
" take " even then. 

The barbarian peril was thus brought under 
bit by bit, and even in the case of Islam the alien 
power which could not be crushed was evidently 
curbed. The Crusades became hopeless, but they 
also became needless. As these fears faded the 
princes of Europe, who had come together to face 
them, were left facing each other. They had 
more leisure to find that their own captaincies 
clashed ; but this would easily have been over- 
ruled, or would have produced a petty riot, had 
not the true creative spontaneity, of which we 
have spoken in the local life, tended to real 
variety. Royalties found they were represen- 
tatives almost without knowing it ; and many a 

1 06 



NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH WARS 

king insisting on a genealogical tree or a title- 
deed found he spoke For the forests and the songs 
of a whole country-side. In England especially 
the transition is typified in the accident which 
raised to the throne one of the noblest men of 
the Middle Ages. 

Edward I. came clad in all the splendours of 
his epoch. He had taken the Cross and fought 
the Saracens ; he had been the only worthy foe 
of Simon de Montfort in those baronial wars 
which, as we have seen, were the first sign 
(however faint) of a serious theory that England 
should be ruled by its barons rather than its 
kings. He proceeded, like Simon de Montfort, 
and more solidly, to develop the great mediaeval 
institution of a parliament. As has been said, 
it was superimposed on the existing parish de- 
mocracies, and was first merely the summoning 
of local representatives to advise on local taxa- 
tion. Indeed its rise was one with the rise 
of what we now call taxation ; and there is 
thus a thread of theory leading to its latter 
claims to have the sole right of taxing. But 
in the beginning it was an instrument of the 
most equitable kings, and notably an instru- 
ment of Edward I. He often quarrelled with 
his parliaments and may sometimes have dis- 
pleased his people (which has never been at 
all the same thing), but on the whole he was 
supremely the representative sovereign. In this 
connection one curious and difficult question 
may be considered here, though it marks the 

107 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

end of a story that began with the Norman 
Conquest It is pretty certain that he was never 
more truly a representative king, one might say 
a republican king, than in the fact that he ex- 
pelled the Jews. The problem is so much 
misunderstood and mixed with notions of a 
stupid spite against a gifted and historic race 
as such, that we must pause for a paragraph 
upon it* 

The Jews in the Middle Ages were as powerful 
as they were unpopular. They were the capitalists 
of the age, the men with wealth banked ready for 
use. It is very tenable that in this way they ,were 
useful ; it is certain that in this way they were 
used. It is also quite fair to say that in this way 
they were ill-used. The ill-usage was not indeed 
that suggested at random in romances, which 
mostly revolve on the one idea that their teeth 
were pulled out. Those who know this as a 
story about King John generally do not know the 
rather important fact that it was a story against 
King John. It is probably doubtful ; it was only 
insisted on as exceptional ; and it was, by that 
very insistence, obviously regarded as disreput- 
able. But the real unfairness of the Jews' position 
was deeper and more distressing to a sensitive 
and highly civilized people. They might reason- 
ably say that Christian kings and nobles, and even 
Christian popes and bishops, used for Christian 
purposes (such as the Crusades and the cathedrals) 
the money that could only be accumulated in such 
mountains by a usury they inconsistently de- 

to8 



NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH WARS 

nounced as unchristian ; and then, when worse 
times came, gave up the Jew to the fury of the 
poor, whom that useful usury had ruined. That 
was the real case for the Jew ; and no doubt he 
really felt himself oppressed. Unfortunately it 
was the case for the Christians that they, with at 
least equal reason, felt him as the oppressor ; and 
that mutual charge of tyranny is the Semitic trouble 
in all times. It is certain that in popular senti- 
ment, this Anti-Semitism was not excused as un- 
charitableness, but simply regarded as charity. 
Chaucer puts his curse on Hebrew cruelty into 
the mouth of the soft-hearted prioress, who wept 
when she saw a mouse in a trap ; and it was when 
Edward, breaking the rule by which the rulers 
had hitherto fostered their bankers' wealth, flung 
the alien financiers out of the land, that his people 
probably saw him most plainly at once as a knight 
errant and a tender father of his people. 

Whatever the merits of this question, such a 
portrait of Edward was far from false. He was 
the most just and conscientious type of mediaeval 
monarch ; and it is exactly this fact that brings 
into relief the new force which was to cross his 
path and in strife with which he died. While he 
was just, he was also eminently legal. And it 
must be remembered, if we would not merely 
read back ourselves into the past, that much of 
the dispute of the time was legal ; the adjustment 
of dynastic and feudal differences not yet felt to 
be anything else. In this spirit Edward was 
asked to arbitrate by the rival claimants to the 

109 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Scottish crown ; and in this sense he seems to 
have arbitrated quite honestly. But his legal, or, 
as some would say, pedantic mind made the pro- 
viso that the Scottish king as such was already 
under his suzerainty, and he probably never 
understood the spirit he called up against him ; 
for that spirit had as yet no name. We call it 
to-day Nationalism. Scotland resisted ; and the 
adventures of an outlawed knight named Wallace 
soon furnished it with one of those legends which 
are more important than history. In a way that 
was then at least equally practical, the Catholic 
priests of Scotland became especially the patriotic 
and Anti-English party ; as indeed they remained 
even throughout the Reformation. Wallace was 
defeated and executed ; but the heather was already 
on fire ; and the espousal of the new national 
cause by one of Edward's own knights named 
Bruce, seemed to the old king a mere betrayal 
of feudal equity. He died in a final fury at the 
head of a new invasion upon the very border 
of Scotland. With his last words the great king 
commanded that his bones should be borne in 
front of the battle ; and the bones, which were 
of gigantic size, were eventually buried with the 
epitaph, " Here lies Edward the Tall, who was 
the hammer of the Scots." It was a true epitaph, 
but in a sense exactly opposite to its intention. 
He was their hammer, but he did not break but 
make them ; for he smote them on an anvil and 
he forged them into a sword. 

That coincidence or course of events, which 
no 



NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH WARS 

must often be remarked in this story, by which 
(for whatever reason) our most powerful kings 
did not somehow leave their power secure, showed 
itself in the next reign, when the baronial quarrels 
were resumed and the northern kingdom, under 
Bruce, cut itself finally free by the stroke of 
Bannockburn. Otherwise the reign is a mere 
interlude, and it is with the succeeding one that 
we find the new national tendency yet further 
developed* The great French wars, in which 
England won so much glory, were opened by 
Edward III., and grew more and more nation- 
alist. But even to feel the transition of the time 
we must first realize that the third Edward made 
as strictly legal and dynastic a claim to France as 
the first Edward had made to Scotland ; the 
claim was far weaker in substance, but it was 
equally conventional in form. He thought, or 
said, he had a claim on a kingdom as a squire 
might say he had a claim on an estate ; super- 
ficially it was an affair for the English and 
French lawyers. To read into this that the 
people were sheep bought and sold is to mis- 
understand all mediaeval history ; sheep have no 
trade union. The English arms owed much of 
their force to the class of the free yeomen ; 
and the success of the infantry, especially of the 
archery, largely stood for that popular element 
which had already unhorsed the high French 
chivalry at CourtraL But the point is this ; that 
while the lawyers were talking about the Salic 
Law, the soldiers, who would once have been talk- 

iii 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

ing about guild law or glebe law, were already 
talking about English law and French law. The 
French were first in this tendency to see some- 
thing outside the township, the trade brother- 
hood, the feudal dues, or the village common. 
The whole history of the change can be seen in 
the fact that the French had early begun to call 
the nation the Greater Land. France was the 
first of nations and has remained the norm of 
nations, the only one which is a nation and 
nothing else. But in the collision the English 
grew equally corporate ; and a true patriotic 
applause probably hailed the victories of Crecy 
and Poitiers, as it certainly hailed the later victory 
of Agincourt. The latter did not indeed occur 
until after an interval of internal revolutions in 
England, which will be considered on a later page ; 
but as regards the growth of nationalism, the 
French wars were continuous. And the English 
tradition that followed after Agincourt was con- 
tinuous also. It is embodied in rude and 
Spirited ballads before the great Elizabethans. 
The Henry V. of Shakespeare is not indeed the 
Henry V. of history ; yet he is more historic. 
He is not only a saner and more genial but a 
more important person. For the tradition of the 
whole adventure was not that of Henry, but of 
the populace who turned Henry into Harry. 
There were a thousand Harries in the army at 
Agincourt, and not one. For the figure that 
Shakespeare framed out of the legends of the 
great victory is largely the figure that all men saw 

1X2 



NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH WARS 

as the Englishman of the Middle Ages. He did 
not really talk in poetry, like Shakespeare's hero, 
but he would have liked to. Not being able to 
do so, he sang ; and the English people prin- 
cipally appear in contemporary impressions as the 
singing people. They were evidently not only 
expansive but exaggerative ; and perhaps it was 
not only in battle that they drew the long bow. 
That fine farcical imagery, which has descended 
to the comic songs and common speech of the 
English poor even to-day, had its happy infancy 
when England thus became a nation ; though the 
modern poor, under the pressure of economic 
progress, have partly lost the gaiety and kept only 
the humour. But in that early April of patriotism 
the new unity of the State still sat lightly upon 
them ; and a cobbler in Henry's army, who would 
at home have thought first that it was the day of 
St. Crispin of the Cobblers, might truly as well 
as sincerely have hailed the splintering of the 
French lances in a storm of arrows, and cried, 
" St. George for Merry England." 

Human things are uncomfortably complex, 
and while it was the April of patriotism it was 
the Autumn of mediaeval society. In the next 
chapter I shall try to trace the forces that were 
disintegrating the civilization ; and even here, 
after the first victories, it is necessary to insist on 
the bitterness and barren ambition that showed 
itself more and more in the later stages, as the 
long French wars dragged on. France was at the 
time far less happy than England wasted by the 

"3 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

treason of its nobles and the weakness of its 
kings almost as much as by the invasion of the 
islanders. And yet it was this very despair 
and humiliation that seemed at last to rend the 
sky, and let in the light of what it is hard for 
the coldest historian to call anything but a 
miracle. 

It may be this apparent miracle that has ap- 
parently made Nationalism eternal It may be 
conjectured, though the question is too difficult 
to be developed here, that there was something 
in the great moral change which turned the 
Roman Empire into Christendom, by which each 
great thing, to which it afterwards gave birth, was 
baptized into a promise, or at least into a hope of 
permanence. It may be that each of its ideas 
was, as it were, mixed with immortality. Cer- 
tainly something of this kind can be seen in the 
conception which turned marriage from a contract 
into a sacrament. But whatever the cause, it is 
certain that even for the most secular types of our 
own time their relation to their native land has 
become not contractual but sacramental. We 
may say that flags are rags, that frontiers are 
fictions, but the very men who have said it for 
half their lives are dying for a rag, and being 
rent in pieces for a fiction even as I write. When 
the battle-trumpet blew in 1914 modern humanity 
had grouped itself into nations almost before it 
knew what it had done. If the same sound 
is heard a thousand years hence, there is no 
sign in the world to suggest to any rational 



NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH WARS 

man that humanity will not do exactly the same 
thing. But even if this great and strange 
development be not enduring, the point is that 
it is felt as enduring. It is hard to give a 
definition of loyalty, but perhaps we come near it 
if we call it the thing which operates where an 
obligation is felt to be unlimited. And the 
minimum of duty or even decency asked of a 
patriot is the maximum that is asked by the 
most miraculous view of marriage. The recog- 
nized reality of patriotism is not mere citizenship. 
The recognized reality of patriotism is for better 
for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and 
in health, in national growth and glory and in 
national disgrace and decline ; it is not to travel 
in the ship of state as a passenger, but if need be 
to go down with the ship. 

It is needless to tell here again the tale of 
that earthquake episode in which a clearance in the 
earth and sky, above the confusion and abasement 
of the crowns, showed the commanding figure of 
a woman of the people. She was, in her own 
living loneliness, a French Revolution. She was 
the proof that a certain power was not in the 
French kings or in the French knights, but in 
the French. But the fact that she saw something 
above her that was other than the sky, the fact 
that she lived the life of a saint and died the 
death of a martyr, probably stamped the new 
national sentiment with a sacred seal. And the 
fact that she fought for a defeated country, 
and, even though it was victorious, was herself 

115 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

ultimately defeated, defines that darker element of 
devotion of which I spoke above, which makes 
even pessimism consistent with patriotism. It is 
more appropriate in this place to consider the 
ultimate reaction of this sacrifice upon the romance 
and the realities of England. 

I have never counted it a patriotic part to 
plaster my own country with conventional and 
unconvincing compliments ; but no one can 
understand England who does not understand 
that such an episode as this, in which she was so 
clearly in the wrong, has yet been ultimately 
linked up with a curious quality in which she is 
rather unusually in the right. No one candidly 
comparing us with other countries can say we 
have specially failed to build the sepulchres of the 
prophets we stoned, or even the prophets who 
stoned us. The English historical tradition has 
at least a loose large-mindedness which always 
finally falls into the praise not only of great 
foreigners but great foes. Often along with much 
injustice it has an illogical generosity ; and while 
it will dismiss a great people with mere ignorance, 
it treats a great personality with hearty hero- wor- 
ship. There are more examples than one even in 
this chapter, for our books may well make out 
Wallace a better man than he was, as they after- 
wards assigned to Washington an even better 
cause than he had. Thackeray smiled at Miss 
Jane Porter's picture of Wallace, going into 
war weeping with a cambric pocket-handkerchief; 
but her attitude was more English and not less 

116 



NATIONALITY AND THE FRENCH WARS 

accurate. For her idealization was, if anything, 
nearer the truth than Thackeray's own notion of 
a medievalism of hypocritical hogs-in-armour. 
Edward, who figures as a tyrant, could weep with 
compassion ; and it is probable enough that Wal- 
lace wept, with or without a pocket-handkerchief. 
Moreover, her romance was a reality, the reality 
of nationalism ; and she knew much more about 
the Scottish patriots ages before her time than 
Thackeray did about the Irish patriots immedi- 
ately under his nose. Thackeray was a great 
man ; but in that matter he was a very small 
man, and indeed an invisible one. The cases of 
Wallace and Washington and many others are 
here only mentioned, however, to suggest an 
eccentric magnanimity which surely balances some 
of our prejudices. We have done many foolish 
things, but we have at least done one fine thing ; 
we have whitewashed our worst enemies. If we 
have done this for a bold Scottish raider and a 
vigorous Virginian slave-holder, it may at least 
show that we are not likely to fail in our final 
appreciation of the one white figure in the motley 
processions of war. I believe there to be in 
modern England something like a universal 
enthusiasm on this subject. We have seen a 
great English critic write a book about this 
heroine, in opposition to a great French critic, 
solely in order to blame him for not having 
praised her enough. And I do not believe there 
lives an Englishman now, who if he had the offer 
of being an Englishman then, would not discard 
E 117 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

his chance of riding as the crowned conqueror at 
the head of all the spears of Agincourt, if he 
could be that English common soldier of whom 
tradition tells that he broke his spear asunder to 
bind it into a cross for Joan of Arc. 



II* 



X 

THE WAR OF THE USURPERS 

THE poet Pope, though a friend of the greatest of 
Tory Democrats, Bolingbroke, necessarily lived in 
a world in which even Toryism was Whiggish. 
And the Whig as a wit never expressed his poli- 
tical point more clearly than in Pope's line which 
ran : " The right divine of kings to govern 
wrong." It wiU be apparent, when I deal with 
that period, that I do not palliate the real unreason 
in divine right as Filmer and some of the pedantic 
cavaliers construed it; They professed the im- 
possible ideal of " non-resistance " to any national 
and legitimate power ; though I cannot see that 
even that was so servile and superstitious as the 
more modern ideal of " non-resistance " even to 
a foreign and lawless power. But the seventeenth 
century was an age of sects, that is of fads ; and 
the Filmerites made a fad of divine right. Its 
roots were older, equally religious but much more 
realistic ; and though tangled with many other 
and even opposite things of the Middle Ages, 
ramify through all the changes we have now to 
consider. The connection can hardly be stated 
better than by taking Pope's easy epigram and 
pointing out that it is, after all, very weak in 

119 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

philosophy. "The right divine of kings to 
govern wrong," considered as a sneer, really 
evades all that we mean by "a right" To have 
a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to 
be right in doing it. What Pope says satirically 
about a divine right is what we all say quite seri- 
ously about a human right. If a man has a right 
to vote, has he not a right to vote wrong ? If a 
man has a right to choose his wife, has he not a 
right to choose wrong ? I have a right to express 
the opinion which I am now setting down ; but 
I should hesitate to make the controversial claim 
that this proves the opinion to be right. 

Now mediaeval monarchy, though only one 
aspect of mediaeval rule, was roughly represented 
in the idea that the ruler had a right to rule as a 
votef has a right to vote. He might govern 
wrong, but unless he governed horribly and ex- 
travagantly wrong, he retained his position of 
right ; as a private man retains his right to 
marriage and locomotion unless he goes horribly 
and extravagantly off his head. It was not really 
even so simple as this ; for the Middle Ages 
were not, as it is often the fashion to fancy, under 
a single and steely discipline. They were very 
controversial and therefore very complex ; and 
it is easy, by isolating items whether about jus 
divinum or primus inter pares, to maintain that the 
mediaevals were almost anything ; it has been 
seriously maintained that they were all Germans. 
But it is true that the influence of the Church, 
though by no means of all the great churchmen, 

1 20 



THE WAR OF THE USURPERS 

encouraged the sense of a sort of sacrament of 
government, which was meant to make the 
monarch terrible and therefore often made the 
man tyrannical. The disadvantage of such des- 
potism is obvious enough. The precise nature 
of its advantage must be better understood than 
it is, not for its own sake so much as for the 
story we have now to tell. 

The advantage of " divine right," or irre- 
movable legitimacy, is this ; that there is a limit 
to the ambitions of the rich. " Roi ne puts " ; the 
royal power, whether it was or was not the power 
of heaven, was in one respect like the power of 
heaven. It was not for sale. Constitutional 
moralists have often implied that a tyrant and a 
rabble have the same vices. It has perhaps been 
less noticed that a tyrant and a rabble most em- 
phatically have the same virtues. And one virtue 
which they very markedly share is that neither 
tyrants nor rabbles are snobs ; they do not care 
a button what they do to wealthy people. It is 
true that tyranny was sometimes treated as coming 
from the heavens almost in the lesser and more 
literal sense of coming from the sky ; a man no 
more expected to be the king than to be the 
west wind or the morning star. But at least no 
wicked miller can chain the wind to turn only 
his own mill ; no pedantic scholar can trim the 
morning star to be his own reading-lamp. Yet 
something very like this is what really happened 
to England in the later Middle Ages ; and the 
first sign of it, I fancy, was the fall of Richard II. 

121 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Shakespeare's historical plays are something 
truer than historical ; they are traditional ; the 
living memory of many things lingered, though 
the memory of others was lost. He is right in 
making Richard II. incarnate the claim to divine 
right; and Bolingbroke the baronial ambition 
which ultimately broke up the old mediaeval 
order. But divine right had become at once 
drier and more fantastic by the time of the 
Tudors. Shakespeare could not recover the fresh 
and popular part of the thing ; for he came at a 
later stage in a process of stiffening which is the 
main thing to be studied in later medievalism. 
Richard himself was possibly a wayward and 
exasperating prince ; it might well be the weak 
link that snapped in the strong chain of the 
Plantagenets. There may have been a real case 
against the coup tfttat which he effected in 1397, 
and his kinsman Henry of Bolingbroke may have 
had strong sections of disappointed opinion on 
his side when he effected in 1399 the first true 
usurpation in English history. But if we wish 
to understand that larger tradition which even 
Shakespeare had lost, we must glance back at 
something which befell Richard even in the first 
years of his reign. It was certainly the greatest 
event of his reign ; and it was possibly the 
greatest event of all the reigns which are rapidly 
considered in this book. The real English people, 
the men who work with their hands, lifted their 
hands to strike their masters, probably for the 
first and certainly for the last time in history. 

122 



THE WAR OF THE USURPERS 

Pagan slavery had slowly perished, not so 
much by decaying as by developing into some- 
thing better. In one sense it did not die, but 
rather came to life. The slave-owner was like 
a man who should set up a row of sticks for a 
fence, and then find they had struck root and 
were budding into small trees. They would be 
at once more valuable and less manageable, espe- 
cially less portable ; and such a difference between 
a stick and a tree was precisely the difference 
between a slave and a serf or even the free 
peasant which the serf seemed rapidly tending 
to become. It was, in the best sense of a 
battered phrase, a social evolution, and it had the 
great evil of one. The evil was that while it 
was essentially orderly, it was still literally law- 
less. That is, the emancipation of the commons 
had already advanced very far, but it had not 
yet advanced far enough to be embodied in a 
law. The custom was "unwritten," like the 
British Constitution, and (like that evolutionary, 
not to say evasive entity) could always be over- 
ridden by the rich, who now drive their great 
coaches through Acts of Parliament. The new 
peasant was still legally a slave, and was to 
learn it by one of those turns of fortune which 
confound a foolish faith in the common sense 
of unwritten constitutions. The French Wars 
gradually grew to be almost as much of a scourge 
to England as they were to France. England 
was despoiled by her own victories ; luxury and 
poverty increased at the extremes of society ; 

123 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

and, by a process more proper to an ensuing 
chapter, the balance of the better medievalism 
was lost. Finally, a furious plague, called the 
Black Death, burst like a blast on the land, 
thinning the population and throwing the work 
of the world into ruin. There was a shortage 
of labour ; a difficulty of getting luxuries ; and 
the great lords did what one would expect them 
to do. They became lawyers, and upholders of 
the letter of the law. They appealed to a rule 
already nearly obsolete, to drive the serf back to 
the more direct servitude of the Dark Ages. 
They announced their decision to the people, 
and the people rose in arms. 

The two dramatic stories which connect Wat 
Tyler, doubtfully with the beginning, and defi- 
nitely with the end of the revolt, are far from 
unimportant, despite the desire of our present 
prosaic historians to pretend that all dramatic 
stories are unimportant. The tale of Tyler's 
first blow is significant in the sense that it is not 
only dramatic but domestic. It avenged an 
insult to the family, and made the legend of the 
whole riot, whatever its incidental indecencies, a 
sort of demonstration on behalf of decency. 
This is important ; for the dignity of the poor 
is almost unmeaning in modern debates ; and an 
inspector need only bring a printed form and a 
few long words to do the same thing without 
having his head broken. The occasion of the 
protest, and the form which the feudal reaction 
had first taken, was a Poll Tax ; but this was 

124 



THE WAR OF THE USURPERS 

but a part of a general process of pressing the 
population to servile labour, which fully explains 
the ferocious language -held by the government 
after the rising had failed ; the language in which 
it threatened to make the state of the serf more 
servile than before. The facts attending the 
failure in question are less in dispute. The 
mediaeval populace showed considerable military 
energy and co-operation, stormed its way to 
London, and was met outside the city by a com- 
pany containing the King and the Lord Mayor, 
who were forced to consent to a parley. The 
treacherous stabbing of Tyler by the Mayor gave 
the signal for battle and massacre on the spot* 
The peasants closed in roaring, c< They have 
killed our leader " ; when a strange thing hap- 
pened ; something which gives us a fleeting and 
a final glimpse of the crowned sacramental man 
of the Middle Ages. For one wild moment 
divine right was divine. 

The King was no more than a boy ; his very 
voice must have rung out to that multitude 
almost like the voice of a child. But the power 
of his fathers and the great Christendom from 
which he came fell in some strange fashion upon 
him ; and riding out alone before the people, he 
cried out, " I am your leader " ; and himself 
promised to grant them all they asked. That 
promise was afterwards broken ; but those who 
see in the breach of it the mere fickleness of the 
young and frivolous king, are not only shallow 
but utterly ignorant interpreters of the whole 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

trend of that time. The point that must be 
seized, if subsequent things are to be seen as 
they are, is that Parliament certainly encouraged, 
and Parliament almost certainly obliged, the 
King to repudiate the people. For when, after 
the rejoicing revolutionists had disarmed and 
were betrayed, the King urged a humane com- 
promise on the Parliament, the Parliament 
furiously refused it. Already Parliament is not 
merely a governing body but a governing class. 
Parliament was as contemptuous of the peasants 
in the fourteenth as of the Chartists in the nine- 
teenth century. This council, first summoned 
by the king like juries and many other things, 
to get from plain men rather reluctant evidence 
about taxation, has already become an object of 
ambition, and is, therefore, an aristocracy. 
There is already war, in this case literally to the 
knife, between the Commons with a large C and 
the commons with a small one. Talking about 
the knife, it is notable that the murderer of 
Tyler was not a mere noble but an elective 
magistrate of the mercantile oligarchy of Lon- 
don ; though there is probably no truth in the 
tale that his blood-stained dagger figures on the 
arms of the City of London. The mediaeval 
Londoners were quite capable of assassinating a 
man, but not of sticking so dirty a knife into the 
neighbourhood of the cross of their Redeemer, 
in the place which is really occupied by the sword 
of St. Paul. 

It is remarked above that Parliament was now 
126 



THE WAR OF THE USURPERS 

an aristocracy, being an object of ambition. The 
truth is, perhaps, more subtle than this ; but if 
ever men yearn to serve on juries we may 
probably guess that juries are no longer popular. 
Anyhow, this must be kept in mind, as against 
the opposite idea of the jus divinum or fixed 
authority, if we would appreciate the fall of 
Richard. If the thing which dethroned him was 
a rebellion, it was a rebellion of the parliament, of 
the thing that had just proved much more pitiless 
than he towards a rebellion of the people. But 
this is not the main point. The point is that by the 
removal of Richard, a step above the parliament 
became possible for the first time. The transition 
was tremendous ; the crown became an object of 
ambition. That which one could snatch another 
could snatch from him ; that which the House of 
Lancaster held merely by force the House of 
York could take from it by force. The spell 
of an undethronable thing seated out of reach 
was broken, and for three unhappy generations 
adventurers strove and stumbled on a stairway 
slippery with blood, above which was something 
new in the mediaeval imagination ; an empty 
throne. 

It is obvious that the insecurity of the Lan- 
castrian usurper, largely because he was a usurper, 
is the clue to many things, some of which we 
should now call good, some bad, all of which we 
should probably call good or bad with the excessive 
facility with which we dismiss distant things. It 
led the Lancastrian House to lean on Parliament, 

127 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

which was the mixed matter we have already seen. 
It may have been in some ways good for the 
monarchy, to be checked and challenged by an 
institution which at least kept something of the 
old freshness and freedom of speech. It was 
almost certainly bad for the parliament, making it 
yet more the ally of the mere ambitious noble, of 
which we shall see much later. It also led the 
Lancastrian House to lean on patriotism, which 
was perhaps more popular ; to make English the 
tongue of the court for the first time, and to re- 
open the French wars with the fine flag-waving of 
Agincourt, It led it again to lean on the Church, 
or rather, perhaps, on the higher clergy, and that 
in the least worthy aspect of clericalism. A 
certain morbidity which more and more darkened 
the end of medievalism showed itself in new and 
more careful cruelties against the last crop of 
heresies. A slight knowledge of the philosophy 
of these heresies will lend Kttle support to the 
notion that they were in themselves prophetic of 
the Reformation. It is hard to see how anybody 
can call Wycliffe a Protestant unless he calls 
Palagius or Arius a Protestant ; and if John Ball 
was a Reformer, Latimer was not a Reformer. 
But though the new heresies did not even hint 
at the beginning of English Protestantism, they 
did, perhaps, hint at the end of English Cathol- 
icism. Cobham did not light a candle to be handed 
on to Nonconformist chapels ; but Arundel did 
light a torch, and put it to his own church. 
Such real unpopularity as did in time attach to 

128 



THE WAR OF THE USURPERS 

the old religious system, and which afterwards 
became a true national tradition against Mary, 
was doubtless started by the diseased energy of 
these fifteenth-century bishops. Persecution can 
be a philosophy, and a defensible philosophy, but 
with some of these men persecution was rather a 
perversion. Across the channel, one of them 
was presiding at the trial of Joan of Arc. 

But this perversion, this diseased energy, is 
the power in all the epoch that follows the fall of 
Richard II,, and especially in those feuds that 
found so ironic an imagery in English roses and 
thorns. The foreshortening of such a backward 
glance as this book can alone claim to be, forbids 
any entrance into the military mazes of the wars 
of York and Lancaster, or any attempt to follow 
the thrilling recoveries and revenges which filled 
the lives of Warwick the Kingmaker and the 
warlike widow of Henry V. The rivals were not, 
indeed, as is sometimes exaggeratively implied, 
fighting for nothing, or even (like the lion and 
the unicorn) merely fighting for the crown. The 
shadow of a moral difference can still be traced 
even in that stormy twilight of a heroic time. 
But when we have said that Lancaster stood, on 
the whole, for the new notion of a king propped 
by parliaments and powerful bishops, and York, 
on the whole, for the remains of the older idea of 
a king who permits nothing to come between him 
and his people, we have said everything of per- 
manent political interest that could be traced by 
counting all the bows of Barnet or all the lances 

129 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

of Tewkesbury. But this truth, that there was 
something which can only vaguely be called Tory 
about the Yorkists, has at least one interest, that 
it lends a justifiable romance to the last and most 
remarkable figure of the fighting House of York, 
with whose fall the Wars of the Roses ended. 

If we desire at all to catch the strange colours 
of the sunset of the Middle Ages, to see what 
had changed yet not wholly killed chivalry, there 
is no better study than the riddle of Richard III. 
Of course, scarcely a line of him was like the 
caricature with which his much meaner successor 
placarded the world when he was dead. He was not 
even a hunchback ; he had one shoulder slightly 
higher than the other, probably the effect of his 
furious swordsmanship on a naturally slender and 
sensitive frame. Yet his soul, if not his body, 
haunts us somehow as the crooked shadow of a 
straight knight of better days. He was not an 
ogre shedding rivers of blood ; some of the men 
he executed deserved it as much as any men of 
that wicked time; and even the tale of his 
murdered nephews is not certain, and is told by 
those who also tell us he was born with tusks and 
was originally covered with hair. Yet a crimson 
cloud cannot be dispelled from his memory, and, 
so tainted is the very air of that time with 
carnage, that we cannot say he was incapable 
even of the things of which he may have been 
innocent. ' Whether or no he was a good man, 
he was apparently a good king and even a popular 
one ; yet we think of him vaguely, and not, I fancy, 

130 



THE WAR OF THE USURPERS 

untruly, as on sufferance. He anticipated the 
Renascence in an abnormal enthusiasm for art 
and music, and he seems to have held to the old 
paths of religion and charity. He did not pluck 
perpetually at his sword and dagger because his 
only pleasure was in cutting throats ; he probably 
did it because he was nervous. It was the age of 
our first portrait-painting, and a fine contemporary 
portrait of him throws a more plausible light on 
this particular detail. For it shows him touching, 
and probably twisting, a ring on his finger, the 
very act of a high-strung personality who would 
also fidget with a dagger. And in his face, as 
there painted, we can study all that has made it 
worth while to pause so long upon his name ; 
an atmosphere very different from everything 
before and after. The face has a remarkable 
intellectual beauty ; but there is something else on 
the face that is hardly in itself either good or evil, 
and that thing is death ; the death of an epoch, 
the death of a great civilization, the death of 
something which once sang to the sun in the 
canticle of St. Francis and sailed to the ends of 
the earth in the ships of the First Crusade, but 
which in peace wearied and turned its weapons 
inwards, wounded its own brethren, broke its 
own loyalties, gambled for the crown, and grew 
feverish even about the creed, and has this one 
grace among its dying virtues, that its valour is 
the last to die. 

But whatever else may have been bad or good 
about Richard of Gloucester, there was a touch 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

about him which makes him truly the last of the 
mediaeval kings. It is expressed in the one word 
which he cried aloud as he struck down foe after 
foe in the last charge at Bosworth treason. For 
him, as for the first Norman kings, treason was 
the same as treachery ; and in this case at least 
it was the same as treachery. When his nobles 
deserted him before the battle, he did not regard 
it as a new political combination, but as the sin of 
false friends and faithless servants. Using his 
own voice like the trumpet of a herald, he chal- 
lenged his rival to a fight as personal as that of 
two paladins of Charlemagne. His rival did not 
reply, and was not likely to reply. The modern 
world had begun. The call echoed unanswered 
down the ages ; for since that day no English 
king has fought after that fashion. Having skin 
many, he was himself slain and his diminished 
force destroyed. So ended the war of the usur- 
pers ; and the last and most doubtful of all the 
usurpers, a wanderer from the Welsh marches, a 
knight from nowhere, found the crown of England 
under a bush of thorn. 



13* 



XI 
THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

SIR THOMAS MORE, apart from any arguments 
about the more mystical meshes in which he was 
ultimately caught and killed, will be hailed by all 
as a hero of the New Learning ; that great dawn 
of a more rational daylight which for so many 
made medievalism seem a mere darkness. What- 
ever we think of his appreciation of the Reforma- 
tion, there will be no dispute about his appreciation 
of the Renascence. He was above all things a 
Humanist and a very human one* He was even 
in many ways very modern, which some rather 
erroneously suppose to be the same as being 
human ; he was also humane, in the sense of 
humanitarian. He sketched an ideal, or rather 
perhaps a fanciful social system, with something 
of the ingenuity of Mr. H. G. Wells, but essen- 
tially with much more than the flippancy attributed 
to Mr. Bernard Shaw. It is not fair to charge 
the Utopian notions upon his morality ; but their 
subjects and suggestions mark what (for want of 
a better word) we can only call his modernism. 
Thus the immortality of animals is the sort of 
transcendentalism which savours of evolution j 

133 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

and the grosser jest about the preliminaries of 
marriage might be taken quite seriously by the 
students of Eugenics. He suggested a sort of 
pacifism though the Utopians had a quaint way 
of achieving it. In short, while he was, with his 
friend Erasmus, a satirist of mediaeval abuses, few 
would now deny that Protestantism would be too 
narrow rather than too broad for him. If he was 
obviously not a Protestant, there are few Pro- 
testants who would deny him the name of a 
Reformer. But he was an innovator in things 
more alluring to modern minds than theology ; 
he was partly what we should call a Neo-Pagan. 
His friend Colet summed up that escape from 
medievalism which might be called the passage 
from bad Latin to good Greek. In our loose 
modern debates they are lumped together ; but 
Greek learning was the growth of this time ; 
there had always been a popular Latin, if a dog- 
Latin. It would be nearer the truth to call the 
mediaevals bi-lingual than to call their Latin a 
dead language, Greek never, of course, became 
so general a possession ; but for the man who got 
it, it is not too much to say that he felt as if he 
were in the open air for the first time. Much 
of this Greek spirit was reflected in More ; its 
universality, its urbanity, its balance of buoyant 
reason and cool curiosity. It is even probable 
that he shared some of the excesses and errors of 
taste which inevitably infected the splendid in- 
tellectualism of the reaction against the Middle 
Ages j we can imagine him thinking gargoyles 

134 



THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

Gothic, in the sense of barbaric, or even failing 
to be stirred, as Sydney was, by the trumpet of 
"Chevy Chase." The wealth of the ancient 
heathen world, in wit, loveliness, and civic heroism, 
had so recently been revealed to that generation 
in its dazzling profusion and perfection, that it 
might seem a trifle if they did here and there an 
injustice to the relics of the Dark Ages. When, 
therefore, we look at the world with the eyes of 
More we are looking from the widest windows 
of that time ; looking over an English landscape 
seen for the first time very equally, in the level 
light of the sun at morning. For what he saw 
was England of the Renascence ; England pass- 
ing from the mediaeval to the modern. Thus he 
looked forth, and saw many things and said many 
things ; they were all worthy and many witty ; 
but he noted one thing which is at once a horrible 
fancy and a homely and practical fact. He who 
looked over that landscape said : ic Sheep arc 
eating men." 

This singulai summary of the great epoch of 
our emancipation and enlightenment is not the 
fact usually put first in such very curt historical 
accounts of it. It has nothing to do with the 
translation of the Bible, or the character of 
Henry V1IL, or the characters of Henry VIII/s 
wives, or the triangular debates between Henry 
and Luther and the Pope. It was not Popish 
sheep who were eating Protestant men, or met 
versa ; nor did Henry, at any period of his own 
brief and rather bewildering papacy, have martyrs 

135 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

eaten by lambs as the heathen had them eaten by 
lions. What was meant, of course, by this pic- 
turesque expression, was that an intensive type 
of agriculture was giving way to a very extensive 
type of pasture. Great spaces of England which 
had hitherto been cut up into the commonwealth 
of a number of farmers were being laid under the 
sovereignty of a solitary shepherd. The point 
has been put, by a touch of epigram rather in the 
manner of More himself, by Mr. J. Stephen, in a 
striking essay now, I think, only to be found in 
the back files of The New Witness. He enun- 
ciated the paradox that the very much admired 
individual, who made two blades of grass grow 
instead of one, was a murderer. In the same 
article, Mr. Stephen traced the true moral origins 
of this movement, which led to the growing of 
so much grass and the murder, or at any rate the 
destruction, of so much humanity. He traced it, 
and every true record of that transformation traces 
it, to the growth of a new refinement, in a sense a 
more rational refinement, in the governing class. 
The mediaeval lord had been, by comparison, a 
coarse fellow ; he had merely lived in the largest 
kind of farm-house after the fashion of the largest 
kind of farmer. He drank wine when he could, 
but he was quite ready to drink ale ; and science 
had not yet smoothed his paths with petrol. At 
a time later than this, one of the greatest ladies of 
England writes to her husband that she cannot 
come to him because her carriage horses are pull- 
ing the plough. In the true Middle Ages the 

136 



. THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

greatest men were even more rudely hampered, 
but in the time of Henry VIII. the transformation 
was beginning. In the next generation a phrase 
was common which is one of the keys of the time, 
and is very much the key to these more ambitious 
territorial schemes. This or that great lord was 
said to be <c Italianate." It meant subtler shapes 
of beauty, delicate and ductile glass, gold and silver 
not treated as barbaric stones but rather as stems 
and wreaths of molten metal, mirrors, cards and 
such trinkets bearing a load of beauty ; it meant 
the perfection of trifles. It was not, as in popular 
Gothic craftsmanship, the almost unconscious 
touch of art upon all necessary things : rather it 
was the pouring of the whole soul of passionately 
conscious art especially into unnecessary things. 
Luxury was made alive with a soul. We must 
remember this real thirst for beauty; for it is an 
explanation and an excuse. 

The old barony had indeed been thinned by 
the civil wars that closed at Bosworth, and cur- 
tailed by the economical and crafty policy of that 
unkingly king, Henry VII. He was himself a 
" new man," and we shall see the barons largely 
give place to a whole nobility of new men. But 
even the older families already had their faces set 
in the newer direction. Some of them, the 
Howards, for instance, may be said to have 
figured both as old and new families. In any 
case the spirit of the whole upper class can be 
described as increasingly new. The English 
aristocracy, which is the chief creation of the 

137 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Reformation, is undeniably entitled to a certain 
praise, which is now almost universally regarded 
as very high praise. It was always progressive. 
Aristocrats are accused of being proud of their 
ancestors ; it can truly be said that English aris- 
tocrats have rather been proud of their descend- 
ants. For their descendants they planned huge 
foundations and piled mountains of wealth ; for 
their descendants they fought for a higher and 
higher place in the government of the state ; for 
their descendants, above all, they nourished every 
new science or scheme of social philosophy. 
They seized the vast economic chances of pastur- 
age ; but they also drained the fens. They swept 
away the priests, but they condescended to the 
philosophers. As the new Tudor house passes 
through its generations a new and more rationalist 
civilization is being made ; scholars are criticizing 
authentic texts ; sceptics are discrediting not only 
popish saints but pagan philosophers ; specialists 
are analyzing and rationalizing traditions, and 
sheep are eating men. 

We have seen that in the fourteenth century 
in England there was a real revolution of the 
poor. It very nearly succeeded ; and I need not 
conceal the conviction that it would have been 
the best possible thing for all of us if it had 
entirely succeeded. If Richard II. had really 
sprung into the saddle of Wat Tyler, or rather 
if his parliament had not unhorsed him when he 
had got there, if he had confirmed the fact of 
the new peasant freedom by some form of royal 

138 



THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

authority, as it was already common to confirm 
the fact of the Trade Unions by the form of a 
royal charter, our country would probably have 
had as happy a history as is pos*sible to human 
nature. The Renascence, when it came, would 
have come as popular education and not the cul- 
ture of a club of aesthetics. The New Learning 
might have been as democratic as the old learning 
in the old days of mediaeval Paris and Oxford. 
The exquisite artistry of the school of Cellini 
might have been but the highest grade of the 
craft of a guild. The Shakespearean drama might 
have been acted by workmen on wooden stages 
set up in the street like Punch and Judy, the 
finer fulfilment of the miracle play as it was acted 
by a guild. The players need not have been 
" the king's servants," but their own masters. 
The great Renascence might have been liberal 
with its liberal education. If this be a fancy, it 
is at least one that cannot be disproved ; the 
mediaeval revolution was too unsuccessful at the 
beginning for any one to show that it need have 
been unsuccessful in the end. The feudal parlia- 
ment prevailed, and pushed back the peasants at 
least into their dubious and half-developed status. 
More than this it would be exaggerative to say, 
and a mere anticipation of the really decisive 
events afterwards. When Henry VIII. came to 
the throne the guilds were perhaps checked but 
apparently unchanged, and even the peasants 
had probably regained ground ; many were still 
theoretically serfs, but largely under the easy 

139 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

landlordism of the abbots ; the mediaeval system 
still stood. It might, for all we know, have 
begun to grow again ; but all such speculations 
are swamped in new and very strange things. 
The failure of the revolution of the poor was 
ultimately followed by a counter-revolution ; a 
successful revolution of the rich. 

The apparent pivot of it was in certain events, 
political and even personal. They roughly resolve 
themselves into two : the marriages of Henry 
VIII. and the affair of the monasteries. The 
marriages of Henry VIIL have long been a popular 
and even a stale joke ; and there is a truth of 
tradition in the joke, as there is in almost any 
joke if it is sufficiently popular, and indeed if it 
is sufficiently stale. A jocular thing never lives 
to be stale unless it is also serious. Henry was 
popular in his first days, and even foreign con- 
temporaries give us quite a glorious picture of a 
young prince of the Renascence, radiant with all 
the new accomplishments. In his last days he 
was something very like a maniac ; he no longer 
inspired love, and even when he inspired fear, 
it was rather the fear of a mad dog than of a 
watch-dog. In this change doubtless the incon- 
sistency and even ignominy of his Bluebeard 
weddings played a great part. And it is but just 
to him to say , that, perhaps with the exception of 
the first and the last, he was almost as unlucky in 
his wives as they were in their husband. But it 
was undoubtedly the affair of the first divorce 
that broke the back of his honour, and incidentally 

140 



THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

broke a very large number of other more valu- 
able and universal things. To feel the meaning 
of his fury we must realize that he did not regard 
himself as the enemy but rather as the friend of 
the Pope ; there is a shadow of the old story of 
Becket. He had defended the Pope in diplomacy 
and the Church in controversy ; and when he 
wearied of his queen and took a passionate fancy 
to one of her ladies, Anne Boleyn, he vaguely 
felt that a rather cynical concession, in that age of 
cynical concessions, might very well be made to 
him by a friend. But it is part of that high in- 
consistency which is the fate of the Christian 
faith in human hands, that no man knows when 
the higher side of it will really be uppermost, if 
only for an instant ; and that the worst ages of 
the Church will not do or say something, as if by 
accident, that is worthy of the best Anyhow, 
for whatever reason, Henry sought to lean upon 
the cushions of Leo and found he had struck his 
arm upon the rock of Peter. The Pope denied 
the new marriage ; and Henry, in a storm and 
darkness of anger, dissolved all the old relations 
with the Papacy. It is probable that he did not 
clearly know how much he was doing then ; and 
it is very tenable that we do not know it now* 
He certainly did not think he was Anti-Catholic ; 
and, in one rather ridiculous sense, we can haraly 
say that he thought he was anti-papal, sin^ he 
apparently thought he was a pope. Frpih thii 
day really dates something that played fc certain 
part in history, the more modern doctrine of 4ie 

141 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

divine right of kings, widely different from the 
mediaeval one. It is a matter which further em- 
barrasses the open question about the continuity 
of Catholic things in Anglicanism, for it was a 
new note and yet one struck by the older party. 
The supremacy of the King over the English 
national church was not, unfortunately, merely a 
fad of the King, but became partly, and for one 
period, a fad of the church. But apart from all 
controverted questions, there is at least a human 
and historic sense in which the continuity of our 
past is broken perilously at this point. Henry 
not only cut off England from Europe, but what 
was even more important, he cuts off England 
from England. 

The great divorce brought down Wolsey, 
the mighty minister who had held the scales 
between the Empire and the French Monarchy, 
and made the modern balance of power in Europe. 
He is often described under the dictum of Ego 
et Rex Meus ; but he marks a stage in the English 
story rather because he suffered for it than be- 
cause he said it. Ego et Rex Mcus might be the 
motto of any modern Prime Minister ; for we 
have forgotten the very fact that the word 
\minister merely means servant. Wolsey was 
the last great servant who could be, and was, 
simply dismissed ; the mark of a monarchy still 
absolute; the English were amazed at it in 
modern Germany, when Bismarck was turned 
away like a butler. A more awful act proved 

new force was already inhuman ; it struck down 
14* 



THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

the noblest of the Humanists. Thomas More, 
who seemed sometimes like an Epicurean under 
Augustus, died the death of a saint under Dio- 
cletian. He died gloriously jesting ; and the 
death has naturally drawn out for us rather the 
sacred savours of his soul ; his tenderness and 
his trust in the truth of God. But for Humanism 
it must have seemed a monstrous sacrifice ; it 
was somehow as if Montaigne were a martyr. 
And that is indeed the note ; something truly to 
be called unnatural had already entered the natu- 
ralism of the Renascence ; and the soul of the 
great Christian rose against it. He pointed to 
the sun, saying <c I shall be above that fellow " 
with Franciscan familiarity, which can love nature 
because it will not worship her. So he left to 
his king the sun, which for so many weary 
days and years was to go down only on his 
wrath* 

But the more impersonal process which More 
himself had observed (as noted at the beginning 
of this chapter) is more clearly defined, and less 
clouded with controversies, in the second of the 
two parts of Henry's policy. There is indeed 
a controversy about the monasteries ; but it is 
one that is clarifying and settling every day. 
Now it is true that the Church, by the Renas- 
cence period, had reached a considerable cor- 
ruption ; but the real proofs of it are utterly 
different both from the contemporary despotic 
pretence and from the common Protestant story. 
It is wildly unfair, for instance^ to quote the 

H3 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

letters of bishops and such authorities denouncing 
the sins of monastic life, violent as they often 
are. They cannot possibly be more violent 
than the letters of St. Paul to the purest and 
most primitive churches ; the apostle was there 
writing to those Early Christians whom all 
churches idealize ; and he talks to them as to 
cut-throats and thieves. The explanation, for 
those concerned for such subtleties, may possibly 
be found in the fact that Christianity is not a 
creed for good men, but for men. Such letters 
had been written in all centuries ; and even in 
the sixteenth century they do not prove so much 
that there were bad abbots as that there were 
good bishops. Moreover, even those who pro- 
fess that the monks were profligates dare not 
profess that they were oppressors ; there is truth 
in Cobbett's point that where monks were land- 
lords, they did not become rack-renting landlords, 
and could not become absentee landlords. Never- 
theless, there was a weakness in the good insti- 
tutions as well as a mere strength in the bad 
ones ; and that weakness partakes of the worst 
element of the time. In the fall of good things 
there is almost always a touch of betrayal from 
within ; and the abbots were destroyed more 
easily because they did not stand together. They 
did not stand together because the spirit of the 
age (which is very often the worst enemy of the 
age) was the increasing division between rich and 
poor ; and it had partly divided even the rich 
and poor clergy. And the betrayal came, as it 

44 



THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

nearly always comes, from that servant of Christ 
who holds the bag. 

To take a modern attack on liberty, on a 
much lower plane, we are familiar with the 
picture of a politician going to the great brewers, 
or even the great hotel proprietors, and pointing 
out the uselessness of a litter of little public- 
houses. That is what the Tudor politicians did 
first with the monasteries. They went to the 
heads of the great houses and proposed the 
extinction of the small ones. The great monastic 
lords did not resist, or, at any rate, did not resist 
enough ; and the sack of the religious houses 
began. But if the lord abbots acted for a 
moment as lords, that could not excuse them, in 
the eyes of much greater lords, for having fre- 
quently acted as abbots. A momentary rally to 
the cause of the rich did not wipe out the dis- 
grace of a thousand petty interferences which 
had told only to the advantage of the poor ; and 
they were soon to learn that it was no epoch for 
their easy rule and their careless hospitality. The 
great houses, now isolated, were themselves 
brought down one by one ; and the beggar, 
whom the monastery had served as a sort of 
sacred tavern, came to it at evening and found 
it a ruin. For a new and wide philosophy was 
in the world, which still rules our society. By 
this creed most of the mystical virtues of the old 
monks have simply been turned into great sins ; 
and the greatest of these is charity. 

But the populace which had risen under 

145 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Richard II. was not yet disarmed. It was trained 
in the rude discipline of bow and bill, and orga- 
nized into local groups of town and guild and 
manor. Over half the counties of England the 
people rose, and fought one final battle for the 
vision of the Middle Ages. The chief tool of 
the new tyranny, a dirty fellow named Thomas 
Cromwell, was specially singled out as the tyrant, 
and he was indeed rapidly turning all govern- 
ment into a nightmare. The popular movement 
was put down partly by force ; and there is the 
new note of modern militarism in the fact that 
it was put down by cynical professional troops, 
actually brought in from foreign countries, who 
destroyed English religion for hire. But, like 
the old popular rising, it was even more put 
down by fraud. Like the old rising, it was 
sufficiently triumphant to force the government 
to a parley ; and the government had to resort 
to the simple expedient of calming the people 
with promises, and then proceeding to break first 
the promises and then the people, after the 
fashion made familiar to us by the modern poli- 
ticians in their attitude towards the great strikes. 
The revolt bore the name of the Pilgrimage of 
Grace, and its programme was practically the 
restoration of the old religion. In connection 
with the fancy about the fate of England if 
Tyler had triumphed, it proves, I think, one 
thing ; that his triumph, while it might or might 
not have led to something that could be called a 
refornij would have rendered quite impossible 

146 



THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

everything that we now know as the Refor- 
mation. 

The reign of terror established by Thomas 
Cromwell became an Inquisition of the blackest 
and most unbearable sort. Historians, who have 
no shadow of sympathy with the old religion, are 
agreed that it was uprooted by means more 
horrible than have ever, perhaps, been employed 
in England before or since. It was a government 
by torturers rendered ubiquitous by spies. The 
spoliation of the monasteries especially was carried 
out, not only with a violence which recalled 
barbarism, but with a minuteness for which there 
is no other word but meanness* It was as if the 
Dane had returned in the character of a detective. 
The inconsistency of the King's personal attitude 
to Catholicism did indeed complicate the con- 
spiracy with new brutalities towards Protestants ; 
but such reaction as there was in this was wholly 
theological. Cromwell lost that fitful favour and 
was executed, but the terrorism went on the more 
terribly for being simplified to the single vision 
of the wrath of the King. It culminated in a 
strange act which rounds off symbolically the story 
told on an earlier page. For the despot revenged 
himself on a rebel whose defiance seemed to him 
to ring down three centuries. He laid waste the 
most popular shrine of the English, the shrine to 
which Chaucer had once ridden singing, because it 
was also the shrine where King Henry had knelt 
to repent. For three centuries the Church and 
the people had called Becket a saint, when Henry 

147 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Tudor arose and called him a traitor. This might 
well be thought the topmost point of autocracy ; 
and yet it was not really so. 

For then rose to its supreme height of self- 
revelation that still stranger something of which 
we have, perhaps fancifully, found hints before in 
this history. The strong king was weak. He 
was immeasurably weaker than the strong kings 
of the Middle Ages ; and whether or no his 
failure had been foreshadowed, he failed. The 
breach he had made in the dyke of the ancient 
doctrines let in a flood that may almost be said 
to have washed him away. In a sense he dis- 
appeared before he died ; for the drama that filled 
his last days is no longer the drama of his own 
character. We may put the matter most prac- 
tically by saying that it is unpractical to discuss 
whether Froude finds any justification for Henry's 
crimes in the desire to create a strong national 
monarchy. For whether or no it was desired, it 
was not created. Least of all our princes did 
the Tudors leave behind them a secure central 
government, and the time when monarchy was at 
its worst comes only one or two generations 
before the time when it was weakest. But a few 
years afterwards, as history goes, the relations of 
the Crown and its new servants were to be 
reversed on a high stage so as to horrify the 
World ; and the axe which had been sanctified with 
^e blood of More and soiled with the blood of 
Cromwell was, at the signal of one of that slave's 
ownNdescendants, to fall and to kill an English king. 
X 148 



THE REBELLION OF THE RICH 

The tide which thus burst through the breach 
and overwhelmed the King as well as the Church 
was the revolt of the rich, and especially of the 
new rich. They used the King's name, and could 
not have prevailed without his power, but the 
ultimate effect was rather as if they had plundered 
the King after he had plundered the monasteries. 
Amazingly little of the wealth, considering the 
name and theory of the thing, actually remained 
in royal hands. The chaos was increased, no 
doubt, by the fact that Edward VI. succeeded to 
the throne as a mere boy, but the deeper truth 
can be seen in the difficulty of drawing any real 
line between the two reigns. By marrying into 
the Seymour family, and thus providing himself 
with a son, Henry had also provided the country 
with the very type of powerful family which was 
to rule merely by pillage. An enormous and 
unnatural tragedy, the execution of one of the 
Seymours by his own brother, was enacted during 
the impotence of the childish king, and the suc- 
cessful Seymour figured as Lord Protector, though 
even he w.ould have found it hard to say what 
he was protecting, since it was not even his own 
family. Anyhow, it is hardly too much to say 
that every human thing was left unprotected from 
the greed of such cannibal protectors. We talk 
of the dissolution of the monasteries, but what 
occurred was the dissolution of the whole of the 
old civilization. Lawyers and lackeys and money- 
lenders, the meanest of lucky men, looted the art 
and economics of the Middle Ages like thieves 

F 149 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

robbing a church. Their names (when they did 
not change them) became the names of the great 
dukes and marquises of our own day. But if we 
look back and forth in our history, perhaps the 
most fundamental act of destruction occurred 
when the armed men of the Seymours and their 
sort passed from the sacking or the Monasteries 
to the sacking of the Guilds. The mediaeval 
Trade Unions were struck down, their buildings 
broken into by the soldiery, and their funds 
seized by the new nobility. And this simple 
incident takes all its common meaning out of the 
assertion (in itself plausible enough) that the 
Guilds, like everything else at that time, were 
probably not at their best. Proportion is the only 
practical thing ; and it may be true that Caesar 
was not feeling well on the morning of the Ides 
of March. But simply to say that the Guilds 
declined, is about as true as saying that Caesar 
quietly decayed from purely natural causes at the 
foot of the statue of Pompey. 



150 



XII 
SPAIN AND THE SCHISM OF NATIONS 

THE revolution that arose out of what is called 
the Renascence, and ended in some countries in 
what is called the Reformation, did in the internal 
politics of England one drastic and definite thing. 
That thing was destroying the institutions of the 
poor. It was not the only thing it did, but it 
was much the most practical. It was the basis 
of all the problems now connected with Capital 
and Labour. How much the theological theories 
of the time had to do with it is a perfectly fair 
matter for difference of opinion. But neither 
party, if educated about the facts, will deny that 
the same time and temper which produced the 
religious schism also produced this new lawless- 
ness in the rich. The most extreme Protestant 
will probably be content to say that Protestantism 
was not the motive, but the mask, The most 
extreme Catholic will probably be content to admit 
that Protestantism was not the sin, but rather the 
punishment. The most sweeping and shameless 
part of the process was not complete, indeed, until 
the end of the eighteenth century, when Profcps- 
tantism was already passing into scepticism. Indeed 

151 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

a very decent case could be made out for the 
paradox that Puritanism was first and last a 
veneer on Paganism ; that the thing began in the 
inordinate thirst for new things in the noblesse of 
the Renascence and ended in the Hell-Fire Club. 
Anyhow, what was first founded at the Refor- 
mation was a new and abnormally powerful 
aristocracy, and what was destroyed, in an ever- 
increasing degree, was everything that could be 
held, directly or indirectly, by the people in spite 
of such an aristocracy. This fact has filled all the 
subsequent history of our country ; but the next 
particular point in that history concerns the posi- 
tion of the Crown. The King, in reality, had 
already been elbowed aside by the courtiers who 
had crowded behind him just before the bursting 
of the door. The King is left behind in the rush 
for wealth, and already can do nothing alone. 
And of this fact the next reign, after the chaos of 
Edward VI.'s, affords a very arresting proof. 

Mary Tudor, daughter of the divorced Queen 
Katherine, has a bad name even in popular his- 
tory ; and popular prejudice is generally more 
worthy of study than scholarly sophistry. Her 
enemies were indeed largely wrong about her 
character, but they were not wrong about her 
effect. She was, in the limited sense, a good 
woman, convinced, conscientious, rather morbid. 
But it is true that she was a bad queen ; bad for 
many things, but especially bad for her own most 
beloved cause. It is true, when all is said, that 
she set herself to burn out " No Popery " and 

152 



SPAIN AND THE SCHISM OF NATIONS 

managed to burn it in. The concentration of 
her fanaticism into cruelty, especially its concen- 
tration in particular places and in a short time, 
did remain like something red-hot in the public 
memory. It was the first of the series of great 
historical accidents that separated a real, if not 
universal, public opinion from the old regime. 
It has been summarized in the death by fire of 
the three famous martyrs at Oxford ; for one of 
them at least, Larimer, was a reformer of the more 
robust and human type, though another of them, 
Cranmer, had been so smooth a snob and coward 
in the councils of Henry VII I. as to make Thomas 
Cromwell seem by comparison a man. But of 
what may be called, the Larimer tradition, the 
saner and more genuine Protestantism, I shall 
speak later. At the time even the Oxford 
Martyrs probably produced less pity and revul- 
sion than the massacre in the flames of many 
more obscure enthusiasts, whose very ignorance 
and poverty made their cause seem more popular 
than it really was. But this last ugly feature was 
brought into sharper relief, and produced more 
conscious or unconscious bitterness, because of 
that other great fact of which I spoke above, 
which is the determining test of this time of 
transition. 

What made all the difference was this : that 
even in this Catholic reign the property of the 
Catholic Church could not be restored. The very 
fact that Mary was a fanatic, and yet this act of 
justice was beyond the wildest dreams of fanaticism 

153 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

that is the point. The very fact that she was 
angry enough to commit wrongs for the Church, 
and yet not bold enough to ask for the rights 
of the Church that is the test of the time. She 
was allowed to deprive small men of their lives, 
she was not allowed to deprive great men of their 
property or rather of other people's property. 
She could punish heresy, she could not punish 
sacrilege. She was forced into the false position 
of killing men who had not gone to church, and 
sparing men who had gone there to steal the 
church ornaments. What forced her into it ? 
Not certainly her own religious attitude, which 
was almost maniacally sincere ; not public opinion, 
which had naturally much more sympathy for the 
religious humanities which she did not restore 
than for the religious inhumanities which she did. 
The force came, of course, from the new nobility 
and the new wealth they refused to surrender ; 
and the success of this early pressure proves that 
the nobility was already stronger than the Crown. 
The sceptre had only been used as a crowbar to 
break open the door of a treasure-house, and was 
itself broken, or at least bent, with the blow. 

There is a truth also in the popular insistence 
on the story of Mary having " Calais" written 
on her heart, when the last relic of the mediaeval 
conquests reverted to France. Mary had the 
solitary and heroic half-virtue of the Tudors : she 
was a patriot. But patriots are often pathetically 
behind the times ; for the very fact that they 
dwell on old enemies often blinds them to new 

154 



SPAIN AND THE SCHISM OF NATIONS 

ones. In a later generation Cromwell exhibited 
the same error reversed, and continued to keep 
a hostile eye on Spain when he should have kept 
it on France. In our own time the Jingoes of 
Fashoda kept it on France when they ought 
already to have had it on Germany. With no 
particular anti-national intention, Mary neverthe- 
less got herself into an anti-national position 
towards the most tremendous international problem 
of her people. It is the second of the coincidences 
that confirmed the sixteenth-century change, and 
the name of it was Spain. The daughter of a 
Spanish queen, she married a Spanish prince, and 
probably saw no more in such an alliance than 
her father had done. But by the time she was 
succeeded by her sister Elizabeth, who was more 
cut off from the old religion (though very tenu- 
ously attached to the new one), and by the time 
the project of a similar Spanish marriage for 
Elizabeth herself had fallen through, something 
had matured which was wider and mightier than 
the plots of princes. The Englishman, standing 
on his little island as on a lonely boat, had already 
felt falling across him the shadow of a tall ship. 

Wooden clichts about the birth of the British 
Empire and the spacious days of Queen Elizabeth 
have not merely obscured but contradicted the 
crucial truth. From such phrases one would 
fancy that England, in some imperial fashion, 
now first realized that she was great. It would 
be far truer to say that she now first realized that 
she was small. The great poet of the spacious 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

days does not praise her as spacious, but only as 
small, like a jewel. The vision of universal 
expansion was wholly veiled until the eighteenth 
century ; and even when it came it was far less 
vivid and vital than what came in the sixteenth. 
What came then was not Imperialism ; it was 
Anti-Imperialism. England achieved, at the be- 
ginning of her modern history, that one thing 
human imagination will always find heroic the 
story of a small nationality. The business of the 
Armada was to her what Bannockburn was to 
the Scots, or Majuba to the Boers a victory that 
astonished even the victors. What was opposed 
to them was Imperialism in its complete and 
colossal sense, a thing unthinkable since Rome. 
It was, in no overstrained sense, civilization itself. 
It was the greatness of Spain that was the glory of 
England. It is only when we realize that the 
English were, by comparison, as dingy, as un- 
developed, as petty and provincial as Boers, that 
we can appreciate the height of their defiance or 
the splendour of their escape. We can only 
grasp it by grasping that for a great part of 
Europe the cause of the Armada had almost the 
cosmopolitan common sense of a crusade. The 
Pope had declared Elizabeth illegitimate logic- 
ally, it is hard to see what else he could say, 
having declared her mother's marriage invalid ; 
but the fact was another and perhaps a final 
stroke sundering England from the elder world. 
Meanwhile those picturesque English privateers 
who had plagued the Spanish Empire of the New 

156 



SPAIN AND THE SCHISM OF NATIONS 

World were spoken of in the South simply 
as pirates, and technically the description was 
true ; only technical assaults by the weaker party 
are in retrospect rightly judged with some 
generous weakness. Then, as if to stamp the 
contrast in an imperishable image, Spain, or 
rather the empire with Spain for its centre, put 
forth all its strength, and seemed to cover the 
sea with a navy like the legendary navy of Xerxes. 
It bore down on the doomed island with the 
weight and solemnity of a day of judgment ; 
sailors or pirates struck at it with small ships 
staggering under large cannon, fought it with 
mere masses of flaming rubbish, and in that last 
hour of grapple a great storm arose out of the 
sea and swept round the island, and the gigantic 
fleet was seen no more. The uncanny complete- 
ness and abrupt silence that swallowed this 
prodigy touched a nerve that has never ceased 
to vibrate. The hope of England dates from 
that hopeless hour, for there is no real hope that 
has not once been a forlorn hope. The breaking 
of that vast naval net remained like a sign that 
the small thing which escaped would survive the 
greatness. And yet there is truly a sense in 
which we may never be so small or so great 
again. 

For the splendour of the Elizabethan age, 
which is always spoken of as a sunrise, was in 
many ways a sunset. Whether we regard it as 
the end of the Renascence or the end of the old 
mediaeval civilization, no candid critic can deny 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

that its chief glories ended with it Let the 
reader ask himself what strikes him specially in 
the Elizabethan magnificence, and he will gene- 
rally find it is something of which there were 
at least traces in mediaeval times, and far fewer 
traces in modern times. The Elizabethan drama 
is like one of its own tragedies its tempestuous 
torch was soon to be trodden out by the Puritans. 
It is needless to say that the chief tragedy was 
the cutting short of the comedy ; for the comedy 
that came to England after the Restoration was 
by comparison both foreign and frigid. At the 
best it is comedy in the sense of being humorous, 
but not in the sense of being happy. It may be 
noted that the givers of good news and good luck 
in the Shakespearian love-stories nearly all belong 
to a world which was passing, whether they are 
friars or fairies. It is the same with the chief 
Elizabethan ideals, often embodied in the Eliza- 
bethan drama. The national devotion to the 
Virgin Queen must not be wholly discredited by 
its incongruity with the coarse and crafty character 
of the historical Elizabeth. Her critics might 
indeed reasonably say that in replacing the Virgin 
Mary by the Virgin Queen, the English reformers 
merely exchanged a true virgin for a false one. 
But this truth does not dispose of a true, though 
limited, contemporary cult. Whatever we think 
of that particular Virgin Queen, the tragic heroines 
of the time offer us a whole procession of virgin 
queens. And it is certain that the mediaevals 
would have understood much better than the 



SPAIN AND THE SCHISM OF NATIONS 

moderns the martyrdom of Measure for Measure. 
And as with the title of Virgin, so with the title 
of Queen. The mystical monarchy glorified in 
Richard IT. was soon to be dethroned much more 
ruinously than in Richard II. The same Puritans 
who tore off the pasteboard crowns of the stage 
players were also to tear off the real crowns of the 
kings whose parts they played. All mummery 
was to be forbidden, and all monarchy to be called 
mummery. 

. Shakespeare died upon St. George's Day, and 
much of what St. George had meant died with 
him. I do not mean that the patriotism of 
Shakespeare or of England died ; that remained 
and even rose steadily, to be the noblest pride 
of the coming times. But much more than 
patriotism had been involved in that image of 
St. George to whom the Lion Heart had dedicated 
England long ago in the deserts of Palestine. 
The conception of a patron saint had carried from 
the Middle Ages one very unique and as yet un- 
replaced idea. It was the idea of variation without 
antagonism. The Seven Champions of Chris- 
tendom were multiplied by seventy times seven in 
the patrons of towns, trades and social types ; but 
the very idea that they were all saints excluded the 
possibility of ultimate rivalry in the fact that they 
were all patrons. The Guild of the Shoemakers 
and the Guild of the Skinners, carrying the badges 
of St. Crispin and St. Bartholomew, might fight 
each other in the streets ; but they did not believe 
that St. Crispin and St. Bartholomew were fighting 

'59 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

each other in the skies. Similarly the English 
would cry in battle on St. George and the French 
on St. Denis ; but they did not seriously believe 
that St. George hated St. Denis or even those who 
cried upon St. Denis, Joan of Arc, who was on 
the point of patriotism what many modern people 
would call very fanatical, was yet upon this point 
what most modern people would call very en- 
lightened. Now, with the religious schism, it 
cannot be denied, a deeper and more inhuman 
division appeared. It was no longer a scrap 
between the followers of saints who were them- 
selves at peace, but a war between the followers 
of gods who were themselves at war. That the 
great Spanish ships were named after St Francis 
or St. Philip was already beginning to mean 
little to the new England ; soon it was to 
mean something almost cosmically conflicting, 
as if they were named after Baal or Thor. 
These are indeed mere symbols ; but the process 
of which they are symbols was very practical 
and must be seriously followed. There entered 
with the religious wars the idea which modern 
science applies to racial wars ; the idea of natural 
wars, not arising from a special quarrel but from 
the nature of the people quarrelling. The 
shadow of racial fatalism first fell across our path, 
and far away in distance and darkness something 
moved that men had almost forgotten. 

Beyond the frontiers of the fading Empire lay 
that outer land, as loose and drifting as a sea, 
which had boiled over in the barbarian wars. 

1 60 



SPAIN AND THE SCHISM OF NATIONS 

Most of it was now formally Christian, but barely 
civilized ; a faint awe of the culture of the south 
and west lay on its wild forces like a light frost. 
This semi-civilized world had long been asleep ; 
but it had begun to dream. In the generation 
before Elizabeth a great man who, with all his 
violence, was vitally a dreamer, Martin Luther, 
had cried out in his sleep in a voice like thunder, 
partly against the place of bad customs, but 
largely also against the place of good works 
in the Christian scheme. In the generation after 
Elizabeth the spread of the new wild doctrines in 
the old wild lands had sucked Central Europe 
into a cyclic war of creeds. In this the house 
which stood for the legend of the Holy Roman 
Empire, Austria, the Germanic partner of Spain, 
fought for the old religion against a league of 
other Germans fighting for the new. The,, conti- 
nental conditions were indeed complicated, and 
grew more and more complicated as the dream of 
restoring religious unity receded. They were 
complicated by the firm determination of France 
to be a nation in the full modern sense ; to stand 
free and foursquare from all combinations ; a 
purpose which led her, while hating her own 
Protestants at home, to give diplomatic support 
to many Protestants abroad, simply because it 
preserved the balance of power against the 
gigantic confederation of Spaniards and Austrians. 
It is complicated by the rise of a Calvinistic and 
commercial power in the Netherlands, logical, 
defiant, defending its own independence valiantly 

161 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

against Spain. But on the whole we shall be 
right if we see the first throes of the modern 
international problems in what is called the 
Thirty Years' War ; whether we call it the revolt 
of half-heathens against the Holy Roman Empire, 
or whether we call it the coming of new sciences, 
new philosophies, and new ethics from the north, 
Sweden took a hand in the struggle, and sent a 
military hero to the help of the newer Germany. 
But the sort of military heroism everywhere 
exhibited offered a strange combination of more 
and more complex strategic science with the most 
naked and cannibal cruelty. Other forces besides 
Sweden found a career in the carnage. Far away 
to the north-east, in a sterile land of fens, a small 
ambitious family of money-lenders who had 
become squires, vigilant, thrifty, thoroughly 
selfish, rather thinly adopted the theories of 
Luther, and began to lend their almost savage 
hinds as soldiers on the Protestant side. They 
were well paid for it by step after step of 
promotion ; but at this time their principality was 
only the old Mark of Brandenburg. Their own 
name was Hohenzollern. 



162 



XIII 
THE AGE OF THE PURITANS 

WE should be very much bored if we had to read 
an account of the most exciting argument or string 
of adventures in which unmeaning words such as 
"snark" or "boojum" were systematically sub- 
stituted for the names of the chief characters or 
objects in dispute ; if we were told that a king 
was given the alternative of becoming a snark or 
finally surrendering the boojum, or that a mob 
was roused to fury by the public exhibition of a 
boojum, which was inevitably regarded as a gross 
reflection on the snark. Yet something very like 
this situation is created by most modern attempts 
to tell the tale of the theological troubles of the 
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, while defer- 
ring to the fashionable distaste for theology in this 
generation or rather in the last generation. Thus 
the Puritans, as their name implies, were primarily 
enthusiastic for what they thought was pure 
religion ; frequently they wanted to impose it 
on others ; sometimes they only wanted to be 
free to practise it themselves ; but in no case 
can justice be done to what was finest in their 
characters, as well as first in their thoughts, if 

163 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

we never by any chance ask what " it " was that 
they wanted to impose or to practise. Now, there 
was a great deal that was very fine about many of 
the Puritans, which is almost entirely missed by 
the modern admirers of the Puritans. They are 
praised for things which they either regarded with 
indifference or more often detested with frenzy 
such as religious liberty. And yet they are quite 
insufficiently understood, and are even under- 
valued, in their logical case for the things they 
really did care about such as Calvinism. We 
make the Puritans picturesque in a way they 
would violently repudiate, in novels and plays 
they would have publicly burnt. We are inte- 
rested in everything about them, except the only 
thing in which they were interested at all. 

We have seen that in the first instance the 
new doctrines in England were simply an excuse 
for a plutocratic pillage, and that is the only truth 
to be told about the matter. But it was far other- 
wise with the individuals a generation or two 
after, to whom the wreck of the Armada was 
already a legend of national deliverance from 
Popery, as miraculous and almost as remote as the 
diliverances of which they read so realistically in 
the Hebrew Books now laid open to them. The 
august accident of that Spanish defeat may perhaps 
have coincided only too well with their concentra- 
tion on the non-Christian parts of Scripture. It may 
have satisfied a certain Old Testament sentiment 
of the election of the English being announced 
in the stormy oracles of air and sea, which was 

164 



THE AGE OF THE PURITANS 

easily turned into that heresy of a tribal pride that 
took even heavier hold upon the Germans. It is 
by such things that a civilized state may fall from 
being a Christian nation to being a Chosen People. 
But even if their nationalism was of a kind that 
has ultimately proved perilous to the comity of 
nations, it still was nationalism. From first to 
last the Puritans were patriots, a point in which 
they had a marked superiority over the French 
Huguenots. Politically, they were indeed at first 
but one wing of the new wealthy class which 
had despoiled the Church and were proceeding to 
despoil the Crown. But while they were all 
merely .the creatures of the great spoliation, many 
of them were the unconscious creatures of it. 
They were strongly represented in the aristocracy, 
but a great number were of the middle classes, 
though almost wholly the middle classes of the 
towns. By the poor agricultural population, 
which was still by far the largest part of the 
population, they were simply derided and detested. 
It may be noted, for instance, that, while they 
led the nation in many of its higher departments, 
they could produce nothing having the atmo- 
sphere of what is rather priggishly called folklore. 
All the popular tradition there is, as in songs, 
toasts, rhymes, or proverbs, is all Royalist. About 
the Puritans we can find no great legend. We 
must put up as best we can with great literature. 

All these things, however, are simply things 
that other people might have noticed about 
them ; they are not the most important things, 

165 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

and certainly not the things they thought about 
themselves. The soul of the movement was in 
two conceptions, or rather in two steps, the first 
being the moral process by which they arrived at 
their chief conclusion, and the second the chief 
conclusion they arrived at. We will begin with 
the first, especially as it was this which deter- 
mined all that external social attitude which 
struck the eye of contemporaries. The honest 
Puritan, growing up in youth in a world swept 
bare by the great pillage, possessed himself of a 
first principle which is one of the three or four 
alternative first principles which are possible to 
the mind of man. It was the principle that the 
mind of man can alone directly deal with the 
mind of God. It may shortly be called the anti- 
sacramental principle ; but it really applies, and 
he really applied it, to many things besides the 
sacraments of the Church. It equally applies, 
and he equally applied it, to art, to letters, to the 
love of locality, to music, and even to good 
manners. The phrase about no priest coming 
between a man and his Creator is but an im- 
poverished fragment of the full philosophic 
doctrine ; the true Puritan was equally clear that 
no singer or story-teller or fiddler must translate 
the voice of God to him into the tongues of ter- 
restrial beauty. It is notable that the one Puritan 
man of genius in modern times, Tolstoy, did 
accept this full conclusion ; denounced all music 
as a mere^ drug, and forbade his own admirers 
to read his own admirable novels. Now, the 

1 66 



THE AGE OF THE PURITANS 

English Puritans were not only Puritans but 
Englishmen, and therefore did not always shine 
in clearness of head ; as we shall see, true Puri- 
tanism was rather a Scotch than an English thing. 
But this was the driving power and the direc- 
tion ; and the doctrine is quite tenable if a trifle 
insane. Intellectual truth was the only tribute 
fit for the highest truth of the universe ; and the 
next step in such a study is to observe what the 
Puritan thought was the truth about that truth. 
His individual reason, cut loose from instinct as 
well as tradition, taught him a concept of the 
omnipotence of God which meant simply the 
impotence of man. In Luther, the earlier and 
milder form of the Protestant process only went 
so far as to say that nothing a man did could 
help him except his confession of Christ ; with 
Calvin it took the last logical step and said that 
even this could not help him, since Omnipotence 
must have disposed of all his destiny before- 
hand ; that men must be created to be lost and 
saved. In the purer types of whom I speak this 
logic was white-hot, and we must read the for- 
mula into all their parliamentary and legal for- 
mulae. When we read, " The Puritan party 
demanded reforms in the church," we must 
understand, c< The Puritan party demanded fuller 
and clearer affirmation that men are created to 
be lost and saved." When we read, "The 
Army selected persons for their godliness,'* we 
must understand, "The Army selected those 
persons who seemed most convinced that men 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

are created to be lost and saved.'* It should be 
added that this terrible trend was not confined 
even to Protestant countries ; some great Ro- 
manists doubtfully followed it until stopped by 
Rome. It was the spirit of the age, and should 
be a permanent warning against mistaking the 
spirit of the age for the immortal spirit of man. 
For there are now few Christians or non-Chris- 
tians who can look back at the Calvinism which' 
nearly captured Canterbury and even Rome by 
the genius and heroism of Pascal or Milton, 
without crying out, like the lady in Mr. Bernard 
Shaw's play, " How splendid 1 How glorious 1 
. . , and oh what an escape 1 " 

The next thing to note is that their con- 
ception of church-government was in a true 
sense self-government ; and yet, for a particular 
reason, turned out to be a rather selfish self- 
government It was equal and yet it was ex- 
clusive. Internally the synod or conventicle 
tended to be a small republic, but unfortunately 
to be a very small republic. In relation to the 
street outside the conventicle was not a republic 
but an aristocracy. It was the most awful of 
all aristocracies, that of the elect ; for it was not 
a right of birth but a right before birth, and 
alone of all nobilities it was not laid level in the 
dust. Hence we have, on the one hand, in the 
simpler Puritans a ring of real republican virtue ; 
a defiance -of tyrants, an assertion of human 
dignity, but above all an appeal to that first of 
all republican virtues publicity. One of the 

168 



THE AGE OF THE PURITANS 

Regicides, on trial for his life, struck the note 
which all the unnaturalness of his school cannot 
deprive of nobility : " This thing was not done 
in a corner/* But their most drastic idealism 
did nothing to recover a ray of the light that at 
once lightened every man that came into the 
world, the assumption of a brotherhood in all 
baptized people. They were, indeed, very like 
that dreadful scaffold at which the Regicide was 
not afraid to point. They were certainly public, 
they may have been public-spirited, they were 
never popular ; and it seems never to have 
crossed their minds that there was any need to 
be popular. England was never so little of a 
democracy as during the short time when she was 
a republic. 

The struggle with the Stuarts, which is the 
next passage in our history, arose from an alliance, 
which some may think an accidental alliance, be- 
tween two things. The first was this intellectual 
fashion of Calvinism which affected the cultured 
world as did our recent intellectual fashion of 
Collectivism. The second was the older thing 
which had made that creed and perhaps that cul- 
tured world possible the aristocratic revolt under 
the last Tudors. It was, we might say, the story of 
a father and a son dragging down the same golden 
image, but the younger really from hatred of 
idolatry, and the older solely from love of gold. 
It is at once the tragedy and the paradox of 
England that it was the eternal passion that 
passed, and the transient or terrestrial passion 

169 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

that remained. This was true of England; it 
was far less true of Scotland ; and that is the 
meaning of the Scotch and English war that 
ended at Worcester. The first change had indeed 
been much the same materialist matter in both 
countries a mere brigandage of barons ; and 
even John Knox, though he has become a national 
hero, was an extremely anti-national politician. 
The patriot party in Scotland was that of Cardinal 
Beaton and Mary Stuart Nevertheless, the new 
creed did become popular in the Lowlands in 
a positive sense, not even yet known in our own 
land. Hence in Scotland Puritanism was the 
main thing, and was mixed with Parliamentary 
and other oligarchies. In England Parliamentary 
oligarchy was the main thing, and was mixed 
with Puritanism. When the storm began to rise 
against Charles L, after the more or less transi- 
tional time of his father, the Scotch successor of 
Elizabeth, the instances commonly cited mark all 
the difference between democratic religion and 
aristocratic politics. The Scotch legend is that of 
Jenny Geddes, the poor woman who threw a stool 
at the priest. The English legend is that of 
John Hampden, the great squire who raised a 
county against the King. The Parliamentary 
movement in England was, indeed, almost wholly 
a thing of squires, with their new allies the 
merchants. They were squires who may well 
have regarded themselves as the real and natural 
leaders of the English ; but they were leaders 
who allowed no mutiny among their followers. 
170 



.THE AGE OF THE PURITANS 

There was certainly no Village Hampden in 
Hampden Village. 

The Stuarts, it may be suspected, brought 
from Scotland a more mediaeval and therefore 
more logical view of their own function ; for the 
note of their nation was logic. It is a proverb 
that James I. was a Scot and a pedant ; it is 
hardly sufficiently noted that Charles I. also was 
not a little of a pedant, being very much of a 
Scot. He had also the virtues of a Scot, courage, 
and a quite natural dignity and an appetite for 
the things of the mind. Being somewhat Scottish, 
he was very un-English, and could not manage a 
compromise : he tried instead to split hairs, and 
seemed merely to break promises. Yet he might 
safely have been far more inconsistent if he 
had been a little hearty and hazy ; but he was 
of the sort that sees everything in black and 
white ; and it is therefore remembered espe- 
cially the black. From the first he fenced with 
his Parliament as with a mere foe ; perhaps he 
almost felt it as a foreigner. The issue is familiar, 
and we need not be so careful as the gentleman 
who wished to finish the chapter in order to find 
out what happened to Charles I. His minister, 
the great Strafford, was foiled in an attempt to 
make him strong in the fashion of a French king, 
and perished on the scaffold, a frustrated Riche- 
lieu. The Parliament claiming the power of the 
purse, Charles appealed to the power of the 
sword, and at first carried all before him ; but 
success passed to the wealth of the Parliamentary 

171 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

class, the discipline of the new army, and the 
patience and genius of Cromwell ; and Charles 
died the same death as his great servant. 

Historically, the quarrel resolved itself, through 
ramifications generally followed perhaps in more 
detail than they deserve, into the great modern 
query of whether a King can raise taxes without 
the consent of his Parliament. The test case 
was that of Hampden, the great Buckingham- 
shire magnate, who challenged the legality of 
a tax which Charles imposed, professedly tor a 
national navy. As even innovators always of 
necessity seek for sanctity in the past, the Puritan 
squires made a legend of the mediaeval Magna 
Carta ; and they were so far in a true tradition 
that the concession of John had really been, as 
we have already noted, anti-despotic without being 
democratic. These two truths cover two parts 
of the problem of the Stuart fall, which are of 
very different certainty, and should be considered 
separately. 

For the first point about democracy, no candid 
person, in face of the facts, can really consider 
it at all. It is quite possible to hold that the 
seventeenth-century Parliament was fighting for 
the truth ; it is not possible to hold that it was 
fighting for the populace. After the autumn of 
the Middle Ages Parliament was always actively 
aristocratic and actively anti-popular. The in- 
stitution which forbade Charles I. to raise Ship 
Money was the same institution which previously 
forbade Richard II. to free the serfs. The 

172 



THE AGE OF THE PURITANS 

Soup which claimed coal and minerals from 
larles I. was the same which afterward claimed 
the common lands from the village communities. 
It was the same institution which only two 
generations before had eagerly helped to destroy, 
not merely things of popular sentiment like the 
monasteries, but all the things of popular utility 
like the guilds and parishes, the local govern- 
ments of towns and trades. The work of the 
great lords may have had, indeed it certainly had, 
another more patriotic and creative side ; but it 
was exclusively the work of the great lords that 
was done by Parliament, The House of Com- 
mons has itself been a House of Lords. 

But when we turn to the other or anti-despotic 
aspect of the campaign against the Stuarts, we 
come to something much more difficult to dismiss 
and much more easy to justify. While the 
stupidest things are said against the Stuarts, the 
real contemporary case for their enemies is little 
realized ; for it is connected with what our insular 
history most neglects, the condition of the Con- 
tinent. It should be remembered that though the 
Stuarts failed in England they fought for things 
that succeeded in Europe. These were roughly, 
first, the effects of the Counter-Reformation, which 
made the sincere Protestant see Stuart Catholicism 
not at all as the last flicker of an old flame, but as 
the spread of a conflagration. Charles II., for 
instance, was a man of strong, sceptical, and almost 
irritably humorous intellect, and he was quite 
certainly, and even reluctantly, convinced of 

173 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Catholicism as a philosophy. The other and 
more important matter here was the almost awful 
autocracy that was being built up in France like a 
Bastille. It was more logical, and in many ways 
more equal and even equitable than the English 
oligarchy, but it really became a tyranny in case 
of rebellion or even resistance. There were none 
of the rough English safeguards of juries and good 
customs of the old common law ; there was lettre 
de cachet as unanswerable as magic. The English 
who defied the law were better off than the French ; 
a French satirist would probably have retorted 
that it was the English who obeyed the law who 
were worse off than the French. The ordering of 
men's normal lives was with the squire ; but he 
was, if anything, more limited when he was the 
magistrate. He was stronger as master of the 
village, but actually weaker as agent of the King. 
In defending this state of things, in short, the 
Whigs were certainly not defending democracy, 
but they were in a real sense defending liberty. 
They were even defending some remains of me- 
diaeval liberty, though not the best ; the jury 
though not the guild. Even feudalism had in- 
volved a localism not without liberal elements, 
which lingered in the aristocratic system. Those 
who loved such things might well be alarmed at 
the Leviathan of the State, which for Hobbes 
was a single monster and for France a single 
man. 

As to the mere facts, it must be said again that in 
so far as Puritanism was pure, it was unfortunately 



THE AGE OF THE PURITANS 

passing. And the very type of the transition by 
which it passed can be found in that extraordinary 
man who is popularly credited with making it 
predominate* Oliver Cromwell is in history much 
less the leader of Puritanism than the tamer of 
Puritanism. He was undoubtedly possessed, cer- 
tainly in his youth, possibly all his life, by the 
rather sombre religious passions of his period ; 
but as he emerges into importance, he stands 
more and more for the Positivism of the English 
as compared with the Puritanism of the Scotch. 
He is one of the Puritan squires ; but he is 
steadily more of the squire and less of the Puritan; 
and he points to the process by which the squire- 
archy became at last merely pagan. This is the 
key to most of what is praised and most of what 
is blamed in him ; the key to the comparative 
sanity, toleration and modern efficiency of many 
of his departures ; the key to the comparative 
coarseness, earthiness, cynicism, and lack of sym- 
pathy in many others. He was the reverse of an 
idealist ; and he cannot without absurdity be held 
up as an ideal ; but he was, like most of the 
squires, a type genuinely English; not without 
public spirit, certainly not without patriotism, His 
seizure of personal power, which destroyed an 
impersonal and ideal government, had something 
English in its very unreason. The act of killing 
the King, I fancy, was not primarily his, and cer- 
tainly not characteristically his. It was a con- 
cession to the high inhuman ideals of the tiny 
group of true Puritans, with whom he had to 

175 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

compromise but with whom he afterwards collided. 
It was logic rather than cruelty in the act that 
was not Cromwellian ; for he treated with bestial 
cruelty the native Irish, whom the new spiritual 
exdusiveness regarded as beasts or as the modern 
euphemism would put it, as aborigines. But his 
practical temper was more akin to such human 
slaughter on what seemed to him the edges of 
civilization, than to a sort of human sacrifice in 
the very centre and forum of it; he is not a 
representative regicide. In a sense that piece of 
headsmanship was rather above his head. The 
real regicides did it in a sort of trance or vision ; 
and he was not troubled with visions. But the 
true collision between the religious and rational 
sides of the seventeenth-century movement came 
symbolically on that day of driving storm at 
Dunbar, when the raving Scotch preachers over- 
ruled Leslie and forced him down into the valley 
to be the victim of the Cromwellian common 
sense. Cromwell said that God had delivered 
them into his hand ; but it was their own God 
who delivered them, the dark unnatural God of 
the Calvinist dreams, as overpowering as a night- 
mare and as passing. 

It was the Whig rather than the Puritan that 
triumphed on that day ; it was the Englishman 
with his aristocratic compromise ; and even what 
followed Cromwell's death, the Restoration, was 
an aristocratic compromise, and even a Whig 
compromise. The mob might cheer as for a 
mediaeval king ; but the Protectorate and the 



THE AGE OF THE PURITANS 

Restoration were more of a piece than the mob 
understood. Even in the superficial things where 
there seemed to be a rescue it was ultimately a 
respite. Thus the Puritan regime had risen chiefly 
by one thing unknown to medievalism mili- 
tarism. Picked professional troops, harshly drilled 
but highly paid, were the new and alien instrument 
by which the Puritans became masters. These 
were disbanded and their return resisted by Tories 
and Whigs ; but their return seemed always im- 
minent, because it was in the spirit of the new 
stern world of the Thirty Years' War, A dis- 
covery is an incurable disease ; and it had been 
discovered that a crowd could be turned into an 
iron centipede, crushing larger and looser crowds* 
Similarly the remains of Christmas were rescued 
from the Puritans ; but they had eventually to 
be rescued again by Dickens from the Utilita- 
rians, and may yet have to be rescued by some- 
body from the vegetarians and teetotallers. The 
strange army passed and vanished almost like a 
Moslem invasion ; but it had made the difference 
that armed valour and victory always make, if it 
was but a negative difference. It was the final 
break in our history ; it was a breaker of many 
things, and perhaps of popular rebellion in our 
knd. It is something of a verbal symbol that 
these men founded New England in America, for 
indeed they tried to found it here. By a paradox, 
there was something prehistoric in the very naked- 
ness of their novelty. Even the old and savage 
things they invoked became more savage in 

177 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

becoming more new. In observing what is called 
their Jewish Sabbath, they would have had to 
stone the strictest Jew* And they (and indeed 
their age generally) turned witch-burning from 
an episode to an epidemic. The destroyers and 
the things destroyed disappeared together ; but 
they remain as something nobler than the nibbling 
legalism of some of the Whig cynics who con- 
tinued their work. They were above all things 
anti-historic, like the Futurists in Italy ; and there 
was this unconscious greatness about them, that 
their very sacrilege was public and solemn like a 
sacrament ; and they were ritualists even as icono- 
clasts. It was, properly considered, but a very 
secondary example of their strange and violent 
simplicity that one of them, before a mighty mob 
at Whitehall, cut off the anointed head of the 
sacramental man of the Middle Ages. For an- 
other, far away in the western shires, cut down 
the thorn of Glastonbury, from which had grown 
the whole story of Britain. 



XIV 
THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS 

WHETHER or no we believe that the Refor- 
mation really reformed, there can be little doubt 
that the Restoration did not really restore. 
Charles II. was never in the old sense a King ; 
he was a Leader of the Opposition to his own 
Ministers. Because he was a clever politician he 
kept his official post, and because his brother 
and successor was an incredibly stupid politician, 
he lost it ; but the throne was already only one 
of the official posts. In some ways, indeed, 
Charles II. was fitted for the more modern world 
then beginning ; he was rather an eighteenth- 
century than a seventeenth-century man. He 
was as witty as a character in a comedy ; and it 
was already the comedy of Sheridan and not of 
Shakespeare. He was more modern yet when 
he enjoyed the pure experimentalism of the 
Royal Society, and bent eagerly over the toys 
that were to grow into the terrible engines of 
science. He and his brother, however, had two 
links with what was in England the losing side ; 
and by the strain on these their dynastic cause 
was lost The first, which lessened in its practical 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

pressure as time passed, was, of course, the hatred 
felt for their religion. The second, which grew 
as it neared the next century, was their tie 
with the French Monarchy. We will deal with 
the religious quarrel before passing on to a much 
more irreligious age ; but the truth about it is 
tangled and far from easy to trace. 

The Tudors had began to persecute the old 
religion before they had ceased to belong to it. 
That is one of the transitional complexities that 
can only be conveyed by such contradictions. A 
person of the type and time of Elizabeth would 
reel fundamentally, and even fiercely, that priests 
should be celibate, while racking and rending 
anybody caught talking to the only celibate 
priests. This mystery, which may be very 
variously explained, covered the Church of 
Engknd, and in a great degree the people of 
England. Whether it be called the Catholic 
continuity of Anglicanism or merely the slow 
extirpation of Catholicism, there can be no doubt 
that a parson like Herrick, for instance, as late 
as the Civil War, was stuffed with "super- 
stitions" which were Catholic in the extreme 
sense we should now call Continental. Yet many 
similar parsons had already a parallel and oppo- 
site passion, and thought of Continental Catho- 
licism not even as the errant Church of Christ, 
but as the consistent Church of Antichrist. It 
is, therefore, very hard now to guess the pro- 
portion of Protestantism ; but there is no doubt 
about its presence, especially its presence in 

1 80 



THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS 

centres of importance like London. By the 
time of Charles II., after the purge of the 
Puritan Terror, it had become something at least 
more inherent and human than the mere ex- 
dusiveness of Calvinist creeds or the craft of 
Tudor nobles. The Monmouth rebellion showed 
that it had a popular, though an insufficiently 
popular, backing. The "No Popery" force 
became the crowd if it never became the people. 
It was, perhaps, increasingly an urban crowd, and 
was subject to those epidemics of detailed de- 
lusion with which sensational journalism plays 
on the urban crowds of to-day. One of these 
scares and scoops (not to add the less technical 
name of lies) was the Popish Plot, a storm 
weathered warily by Charles II. Another was 
the Tale of the Warming Pan, or the bogus 
heir to the throne, a storm that finally swept 
away James II. 

The last blow, however, could hardly have 
fallen but for one of those illogical but almost 
lovable localisms to which the English tempera- 
ment is prone. The debate about the Church 
of England, then and now, differs from most 
debates in one vital point. It is not a debate 
about what an institution ought to do, or 
whether that institution ought to alter, but about 
what that institution actually is. One party, 
then as now, only cared for it because it was 
Catholic, and the other only cared for it because 
it was Protestant. Now, something had certainly 
happened to the English quite inconceivable to 

G 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

the Scotch or the Irish. Masses of common 
people loved the Church of England without 
having even decided what it was. It had a hold 
different indeed from that of the mediaeval 
Church, but also very different from the barren 
prestige of gentility which dung to it in the 
succeeding century. Macaulay, with a widely 
different purpose in mind, devotes some pages 
to proving that an Anglican clergyman was so- 
cially a mere upper servant in the seventeenth 
century. He is probably right ; but he does not 
guess that this was but the degenerate con- 
tinuity of the more democratic priesthood of the 
Middle Ages. A priest was not treated as a 
gentleman ; but a peasant was treated as a 
priest And in England then, as in Europe 
now, many entertained the fancy that priesthood 
was a higher thing than gentility. In short, the 
national church was then at least really national, 
in a fashion that was emotionally vivid though 
intellectually vague. When, therefore, James IL 
seemed to menace this practising communion, he 
aroused something at least more popular than the 
mere priggishness of the Whig lords. To this 
must be added a fact generally forgotten. I 
mean the fact that the influence then called 
Popish was then in a real sense regarded as revo- 
lutionary. The Jesuit seemed to the English 
not merely a conspirator but a sort of anarchist. 
There is something appalling about abstract specu- 
lations to many Englishmen ; and the abstract 
speculations of Jesuits like Suarez dealt with 

182 



THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS 

extreme democracy and things undreamed of 
here. The last Stuart proposals for toleration 
seemed thus to many as vast and empty as 
atheism. The only seventeenth-century English- 
men who had something of this transcendental 
abstraction were the Quakers ; and the cosy 
English compromise shuddered when the two 
things shook hands. For it was something much 
more than a Stuart intrigue which made these 
philosophical extremes meet, merely because they 
were philosophical ; and which brought the weary 
but humorous mind of Charles II. into alliance 
with the subtle and detached spirit of William 
Penn. 

Much of England, then, was really alarmed at 
the Stuart scheme of toleration, sincere or in- 
sincere, because it seemed theoretical and therefore 
fanciful. It was in advance of its age or (to use 
a more intelligent language) too thin and ethereal 
for its atmosphere. And to this affection for the 
actual in the English moderates must be added 
(in what proportion we know not) a persecuting 
hatred of Popery almost maniacal but quite sincere. 
The State had long, as we have seen, been turned to 
an engine of torture against priests and the friends 
of priests. Men talk of the Revocation of the 
Edict of Nantes ; but the English persecutors never 
had so tolerant an edict to revoke. But at least by 
this time the English, like the French, persecutors 
were oppressing a minority. Unfortunately there 
was another province of government in which 
they were still more madly persecuting the 

183 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

majority. For it was here that came to its 
climax and took on its terrific character that 
lingering crime that was called the government of 
Ireland. It would take too long to detail the 
close network of unnatural laws by which that 
country was covered till towards the end of the 
eighteenth century ; it is enough to say here that 
the whole attitude to the Irish was tragically 
typified, and tied up with our expulsion of the 
Stuarts, in one of those acts that are remembered 
for ever. James II., fleeing from the opinion of 
London, perhaps of England, eventually found 
refuge in Ireland, which took arms in his favour. 
The Prince of Orange, whom the aristocracy had 
summoned to the throne, landed in that country 
with an English and Dutch army, won the Battle 
of the Boyne, but saw his army successfully 
arrested before Limerick by the military genius 
of Patrick Sarsfield. The check was so complete 
that peace could only be restored by promising 
complete religious liberty to the Irish, in return 
for the surrender of Limerick. The new English 
Government occupied the town and immediately " 
broke the promise* It is not a matter on which 
there is much more to be said. It was a tragic 
necessity that the Irish should remember it ; but 
it was far more tragic that the English forgot it. 
For he who has forgotten his sin is repeating it 
incessantly for ever. 

But here again the Stuart position was much 
more vulnerable on the side of secular policy, and 
especially of foreign policy. The aristocrats to 

184 



THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS 

whom power passed finally at the Revolution were 
already ceasing to have any supernatural faith in 
Protestantism as against Catholicism ; but they 
had a very natural faith in England as against 
France ; and eyen, in a certain sense, in English 
institutions as against French institutions. And 
just as these mei^ the most unmediseval of man- 
kind, could yet boast about some mediaeval 
liberties, Magna Carta, the Parliament and the 
Jury, so they could appeal to a true mediaeval 
legend in the matter of a war with France. A 
typical eighteenth-century oligarch like Horace 
Walpole could complain that the cicerone in an 
old church troubled him with traces of an irrelevant 
person named St. Somebody, when he was looking 
for the remains of John of Gaunt. He could say 
it with all the naiveti of scepticism, and never 
dream how far away from John of Gaunt he was 
really wandering in saying so. But though their 
notion of mediaeval history was a mere masquerade 
ball, it was one in which men fighting the French 
could still, in a.n ornamental way, put on the 
armour of the Black Prince or the crown of 
Henry of Monmouth. In this matter, in short, 
it is probable enough -that the aristocrats were 
popular as patriots will always be popular. It is 
true that the last Stuarts were themselves far 
from unpatriotic ; and James II. in particular may 
well be called the founder of the British Navy. 
But their sympathies were with France, among 
other foreign countries ; they took refuge in 
France, the elder before and the younger after his 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

period of rule ; and France aided the later 
Jacobite efforts to restore their line. And for 
the new England, especially the new English 
nobility, France was the enemy. 

The transformation through which the ex- 
ternal relations of England passed at the end of 
the seventeenth century is symbolized by two 
very separate and definite steps ; the first the 
accession of a Dutch king and the second the 
accession of a German king. In the first were 
present all the features that can partially make 
an unnatural thing natural. In the second we 
have the condition in which even those effecting 
it can hardly call it natural, but only call it 
necessary. William of Orange was like a gun 
dragged into the breach of a wall ; a foreign 
gun indeed, and one fired in a quarrel more 
foreign than English, but still a quarrel in which 
the English, and especially the English aristo- 
crats, could play a great part. George of 
Hanover was simply something stuffed into a 
hole in the wall by English aristocrats, who 
practically admitted that they were simply stop- 
ping it with rubbish. In many ways William, 
cynical as he was, carried on the legend of the 
greater and grimmer Puritanism. He was in 
private conviction a Calvinist ; and nobody knew 
or cared what George was except that he was 
not a Catholic. He was at home the partly 
republican magistrate of what had once been a 
purely republican experiment, and among the 
cleaner if colder ideals of the seventeenth century* 

186 



THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS 

George was when he was at home pretty much 
what the King of the Cannibal Islands was when 
he was at home a savage personal ruler scarcely 
logical enough to be called a despot. William 
was a man of acute if narrow intelligence ; 
George was a man of no intelligence. Above 
all, touching the immediate effect produced, 
William was married to a Stuart, and ascended 
the throne hand-in-hand with a Stuart ; he was 
a familiar figure, and already a part of our royal 
family. With George there entered England 
something that had scarcely been seen there 
before ; something hardly mentioned in mediaeval 
or Renascence writing, except as one mentions a 
Hottentot the barbarian from beyond the Rhine. 
The reign of Queen Anne, which covers the 
period between these two foreign kings, is there- 
fore the true time of transition. It is the bridge 
between the time when the aristocrats were at 
least weak enough to call in a strong man to help 
them, and the time when they were strong enough 
deliberately to call in a weak man who would 
allow them to help themselves. To symbolize is 
always to simplify, and to simplify too much ; but 
the whole may be well symbolized as the struggle 
of two great figures, both gentlemen and men of 
genius, both courageous and clear about their 
own aims, and in everything else a violent con- 
trast at every point One of them was Henry St. 
John, Lord Bolingbroke ; the other was John 
Churchill, the famous and infamous Duke of 
Marlborough. The story of Churchill is primarily 

187 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

the story of the Revolution and how it suc- 
ceeded ; the story of Bolingbroke is the story 
of the Counter-Revolution and how it failed. 

Churchill is a type of the extraordinary time 
in this, that he combines the presence of glory 
with the absence of honour. When the new 
aristocracy had become normal to the nation, in 
the next few generations, it produced personal 
types not only of aristocracy but of chivalry, 
The Revolution reduced us to a country 
wholly governed by gentlemen ; the popular uni- 
versities and schools of the Middle Ages, like 
their guilds and abbeys, had been seized and 
turned into what they are factories of gentlemen, 
when they are not merely factories of snobs. It 
is hard now to realize that what we call the Public 
Schools were once undoubtedly public. By the 
Revolution they were already becoming as private 
as they are now. But at least in the eighteenth 
centuiy there were great gentlemen in the 
generous, perhaps too generous, sense now given 
to the tide. Types not merely honest, but rash 
and romantic in their honesty, remain in the 
record with the names of Nelson or of Fox. We 
have already seen that the later reformers defaced 
from fanaticism the churches which the first re- 
formers had defaced simply from avarice. Rather 
in the same way the eighteenth-century Whigs 
often praised, in a spirit of pure magnanimity, 
what the seventeenth-century Whigs had done in 
a spirit of pure meanness. How mean was that 
meanness can only be estimated by realizing that 

188 



THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS. 

a great military hero had not even the ordinary 
military virtues of loyalty to his flag or obedience 
to his superior officers, that he picked his way 
through campaigns that have made him immortal 
with the watchful spirit of a thieving camp- 
follower* When William landed at Tofbay on 
the invitation of the other Whig nobles, Churchill, 
as if to add something ideal to his imitation of 
Iscariot, went to James with wanton professions 
of love and loyalty, went forth in arms as if 
to defend the country from invasion, and then 
calmly handed the army over to the invader. To 
the finish of this work of art but few could aspire, 
but in their degree all the politicians of the 
Revolution were upon this ethical pattern. While 
they surrounded the throne of James, there was 
scarcely one of them who was not in correspond- 
ence with William. When they afterwards sur- 
rounded the throne of William, there was not 
one of them who was not still in correspondence 
with James. It was such men who defeated Irish 
Jacobitism by the treason of Limerick ; it was 
such men who defeated Scotch Jacobitism by the 
treason of Glencoe. 

Thus the strange yet splendid story of eigh- 
teenth-century England is one of greatness founded 
on smallness, a pyramid standing on a point. Or, 
to vary the metaphor, the new mercantile oligarchy 
might be symbolized even in the externals of its 
great sister, the mercantile oligarchy of Venice. 
The solidity was all in the superstructure ; the 
fluctuation had been all in the foundations. The 

189 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

great temple of Chatham and Warren Hastings 
was reared in its origins on things as unstable as 
water and as fugitive as foam. It is only a fancy, 
of course, to connect the unstable element with 
something restless and even shifty in the lords of 
the sea. But there was certainly in the genesis, 
if not in the later generations of our mercantile 
aristocracy, a thing only too mercantile ; some- 
thing which had also been urged against a yet 
older example of that polity, something called 
Punka fides. The great Royalist Strafford, going 
disillusioned to death, had said, a Put not your 
trust in princes." The great Royalist Bolingbroke 
may well be said to have retorted, " And least of 
all in merchant princes." 

Bolingbroke stands for a whole body of con- 
viction which bulked very big in English history, 
but which with the recent winding- of the course 
of history has gone out of sight. Yet without 
grasping it we cannot understand our past, nor, I 
will add, our future. Curiously enough, the best 
English books of the eighteenth century are 
crammed with it, yet modern culture cannot see 
it when it is there. Dr. Johnson is full of it ; it 
is what he meant when he denounced minority 
rule in Ireknd, as well as when he said that the 
devil was the first Whig. Goldsmith is full of it ; 
it is the whole point of that fine poem "The 
Deserted Village," and is set out theoretically with 
great lucidity and spirit in <c The Vicar of Wake- 
field." Swift is full of it ; and found in it an 
intellectual brotherhood-in-arms with Bolingbroke 

190 



THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS 

himself. In the time of Queen Anne it was pro- 
bably the opinion of the majority of people in 
England. But it was not only in Ireland that the 
minority had begun to rule. 

This conviction, as brilliantly expounded by 
Bolingbroke, had many aspects; perhaps the 
most practical was the point that one of the 
virtues of a despot is distance* It is " the little 
tyrant of the fields" that poisons human life. 
The thesis involved the truism that a good king 
is not only a good thing, but perhaps the best 
thing. But it also involved the paradox that 
even a bad king is a good king, for his oppression 
weakens the nobility and relieves the pressure on 
the populace. If he is a tyrant he chiefly tortures 
the torturers ; and though Nero's murder of his 
own mother was hardly perhaps a gain to his 
soul, it was no great loss to his empire. Boling- 
broke had thus a wholly rationalistic theory of 
Jacobitism. He was, in other respects, a fine and 
typical eighteenth-century intellect, a free-thinking 
Deist, a clear and classic writer of English. But 
he was also a man of adventurous spirit and 
splendid political courage, and he made one kst 
throw for the Stuarts. It was defeated by the 
great Whig nobles who formed the committee 
of the new regime of the gentry. And considering 
who it was who defeated it, it is almost unneces- 
sary to say that it was defeated by a trick. 

The small German prince ascended the throne, 
or rather was hoisted into it like a dummy, and 
the great English Royalist went into exile. 

191 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

Twenty years afterwards he reappears and re- 
asserts his living and logical faith in a popular 
monarchy. But it is typical of the whole detach- 
ment and distinction of his mind that for this 
abstract ideal he was willing to strengthen the 
heir of the king whom he had tried to exclude. 
He was always a Royalist, but never a Jacobite. 
What he cared for was not a royal family, but a 
royal office. He celebrated it in his great book 
" The Patriot King," written in exile ; and when 
he thought that George's great-grandson was 
enough of a patriot, he only wished that he might 
be more of a king. He made in his old age yet 
another attempt, with such unpromising instru- 
ments as George III. and Lord Bute ; and when 
these broke in his hand he died with all the 
dignity of the sed victa Catoni. The great com- 
mercial aristocracy grew on to its full stature. 
But if we wish to realize the good and ill of its 
growth, there is no better summary than this 
section from the first to the last of the foiled 
coups fitat of Bolingbroke. In the first his policy 
made peace with France, and broke the connection 
with Austria. In the second his policy again 
made peace with France, and broke the connection 
with Prussia. For in that interval the seed of 
the money-lending squires of Brandenburg had 
waxed mighty, and had already become that 
prodigy which has become so enormous a problem 
in Europe. By the end of this epoch Chatham, 
who incarnated and even created, at least in a 
representative sense, all that we call the British 

192 



THE TRIUMPH OF THE WHIGS 

Empire, was at the height of his own and his 
country's glory. He summarized the new England 
of the Revolution in everything, especially in 
everything in which that movement seems to 
many to be intrinsically contradictory and yet was 
most corporately consistent. Thus he was a 
Whig, and even in some ways what we should 
call a Liberal, like his son after him ; but he was 
also an Imperialist and what we should call a 
Jingo ; and the Whig party was consistently the 
Jingo party. He was an aristocrat, in the sense 
that all our public men were than aristocrats ; 
but he was very emphatically what may be called 
a commercialist one might almost say Cartha- 
ginian. In this connection he has the character- 
istic which perhaps humanized but was not allowed 
to hamper the aristocratic plan ; I mean that he 
could use the middle classes. It was a young 
soldier of middle rank, James Wolfe, who fell 
gloriously driving the French out of Quebec ; it 
was a young clerk of the East India Company, 
Robert Clive, who threw open to the English the 
golden gates of India. But it was precisely one 
of the strong points of this eighteenth-century 
aristocracy that it wielded without friction the 
wealthier bourgeoisie; it was not there that the 
social cleavage was to come. He was an eloquent 
parliamentary orator, and though Parliament was 
as narrow as a senate, it was one of great senators. 
The very word recalls the roll of those noble 
Roman phrases they often used, which we are 
right in calling classic, but wrong in calling cold. 

193 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

In some ways nothing could be further from all 
this fine if florid scholarship, all this princely and 
patrician geniality, all this air of freedom and 
adventure on the sea, than the little inland state 
of the stingy drill-sergeants of Potsdam, hammer- 
ing mere savages into mere soldiers* And yet 
the great chief of these was in some ways like a 
shadow of Chatham flung across the world the 
sort of shadow that is at once an enlargement and 
a caricature. The English lords, whosfe paganism 
was ennobled by patriotism, saw here something 
drawn out long and thin out of their own theories. 
What was paganism in Chatham was atheism in 
Frederick the Great. And what was in the first 
patriotism was in the second something with no 
name but Prussianism. The cannibal theory of 
a commonwealth, that it can of its nature eat 
other commonwealths, had entered Christendom. 
Its autocracy and our own aristocracy drew indi- 
rectly nearer together, and seemed for a time to 
be wedded ; but not before the great Boling- 
broke had made a dying gesture, as if to forbid 
the banns. 



194 



XV 

THE WAR WITH THE GREAT 
REPUBLICS 

WE cannot understand the eighteenth century so 
long as we suppose that rhetoric is artificial because 
it is artistic. We do not fall into this folly about 
any of the other arts. We talk of a man picking 
out notes arranged in ivory on a wooden piano 
" with much feeling," or of his pouring out his 
soul by scraping on cat-gut after a training as 
careful as an acrobat's. But we are still haunted 
with a prejudice that verbal form and verbal effect 
must somehow be hypocritical when they are the 
link between things so living as a man and a mob. 
We doubt the feeling of the old-fashioned orator, 
because his periods are so rounded and pointed as 
to convey his feeling. Now before any criticism 
of the eighteenth-century worthies must be put 
the proviso of their perfect artistic sincerity. 
Their oratory was unrhymed poetry, and it had 
the humanity of poetry. It was not even un- 
metrical poetry ; that century is full of great 
phrases, often spoken on the spur of great 
moments, which have in them the throb and 
recurrence of song, as of a man thinking to a 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

tune. Nelson's " In honour I gained them, in 
honour I will die with them," has more rhythm 
than much that is called vers libres. Patrick 
Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" 
might be a great line in Walt Whitman. 

It is one of the many quaint perversities of 
the English to pretend to be bad speakers ; but 
in fact the most English eighteenth-century epoch 
blazed with brilliant speakers. There may have 
been finer writing in France ; there was no such 
fine speaking as in England The Parliament 
had faults enough, but it was sincere enough to 
be rhetorical The Parliament was corrupt, as it 
is now ; though the examples of corruption were 
then often really made examples, in the sense of 
warnings, where they are now examples only in 
the sense of patterns. The Parliament was in- 
different to the constituencies, as it is now ; though 
perhaps the constituencies were less indifferent to 
the Parliament. The Parliament was snobbish, 
as it is now, though perhaps more respectful to 
mere rank and less to mere wealth. But the 
Parliament was a Parliament; it did fulfil its 
name and duty by talking, and trying to talk 
well. It did not merely do things because they do 
not bear talking about as it does now. It was 
then, to the eternal glory of our country, a great 
"talking-shop," not a mere buying and selling 
shop for financial tips and official places. And as 
with any other artist, the care the eighteenth- 
century man expended on oratory is a proof of 
his sincerity, not a disproof of it. An enthusiastic 

196 



WAR WITH THE GREAT REPUBLICS 

eulogium by Burke is as rich and elaborate 
as a lover's sonnet ; but it is because Burke is 
really enthusiastic, like the lover. An angry 
sentence by Junius is as carefully compounded as 
a Renascence poison ; but it is because Junius is 
really angry like the poisoner* Now, nobody 
who has realized this psychological truth can doubt 
for a moment that many of the English aristocrats 
of the eighteenth century had a real enthusiasm 
for liberty ; their voices lift like trumpets upon 
the very word. Whatever their immediate for- 
bears may have meant, these men meant what 
they said when they talked of the high memory 
of Hampden or the majesty of Magna Carta. 
Those Patriots whom Walpole called the Boys 
included many who really were patriots or better 
still, who really were boys. If we prefer to put, 
it so, among the Whig aristocrats were many who 
really were Whigs ; Whigs by all the ideal defini- 
tions which identified the party with a defence of 
law against tyrants and courtiers. But if anybody 
deduces, from the fact that the Whig aristocrats 
were Whigs, any doubt about whether the Whig 
aristocrats were aristocrats, there is one practical 
test and reply. It might be tested in many ways : 
by the game laws and enclosure laws they passed, 
or by the strict code of the duel and the definition 
of honour on which they all insisted. But if it 
be really questioned whether I am right in calling 
their whole world an aristocracy, and the very 
reverse of it a democracy, the true historical test is 
this : that when republicanism really entered the 

197 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

world, they instantly waged two great wars with 
it or (if the view be preferred) it instantly waged 
two great wars with them. America and France 
revealed the real nature of the English Parlia- 
ment Ice may sparkle, but a real spark will 
show it is only ice. So when the red fire of the 
Revolution touched the frosty splendours of the 
Whigs, there was instantly a hissing and a strife ; 
a strife of the flame to melt the ice, of the water 
to quench the flame. 

It has been noted that one of the virtues of 
the aristocrats was liberty, especially liberty among 
themselves. It might even be said that one of 
the virtues of the aristocrats was cynicism. They 
were not stuffed with our fashionable fiction, with 
its stiff and wooden figures of a good man named 
Washington and a bad man named Boney. They 
at least were aware that Washington's cause was 
not so obviously white nor Napoleon's so ob- 
viously black as most books in general circulation 
would indicate. They had a natural admiration 
for the military genius of Washington and Napo- 
leon ; they had the most unmixed contempt for 
the German Royal Family. But they were, as a 
class, not only against both Washington and 
Napoleon, but against them both for the same 
reason. And it was that they both stood for 
democracy. 

Great injustice is done to the English aristo- 
cratic government of the time through a failure to 
realize this fundamental difference, especially in 
the case of America. There is a wrong-headed 

198 



WAR WITH THE GREAT REPUBLICS 

humour about the English which appears especi- 
ally in this, that while they often (as in the case 
of Ireland) make themselves out right where they 
were entirely wrong, they are easily persuaded (as 
in the case of America) to make themselves 
out entirely wrong where there is at least a case 
for their having been more or less right. 
George IIL's Government kid certain taxes on 
the colonial community on the eastern seaboard 
of America. It was certainly not self-evident, 
in the sense of law and precedent, that the im- 
perial government could not ky taxes on such 
colonists. Nor were the taxes themselves of 
that practically oppressive sort which rightly raise 
everywhere the common casuistry of revolution. 
The Whig oligarchs had their foults, but utter 
kck of sympathy with liberty, especially local 
liberty, and with their adventurous kindred 
beyond the seas, was by no means one of their 
faults. Chatham, the great chief of the new and 
very national noble$$e y was typical of them in 
being free from the faintest ilHberality and irrita- 
tion against the colonies as such. He would 
have made them free and even favoured colonies, 
if only he could have kept them as colonies. 
Burke, who was then the eloquent voice of 
Whiggism, and was destined later to show how 
wholly it was a voice of aristocracy, went of 
course even further. Even North compromised ; 
and though George III., being a fool, might him- 
self have refused to compromise, he had already 
failed to effect the Bolingbrokc scheme of the 

199 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

restitution of the royal power. The case for the 
Americans, the real reason for calling them right 
in the quarrel, was something much deeper than 
the quarrel. They were at issue, not with a 
dead monarchy, but with a living aristocracy ; 
they declared war on something much finer and 
more formidable than poor old George. Never- 
theless, the popular tradition, especially in America, 
has pictured it primarily as a duel of George III. 
and George Washington ; and, as we have 
noticed more than once, such pictures though 
figurative are seldom false. King George's head 
was not much more useful on the throne than it 
was on the sign-board of a tavern ; nevertheless, 
the sign-board was really a sign, and a sign of 
the times. It stood for a tavern that sold not 
English but German beer* It stood for that side 
of the Whig policy which Chatham showed when 
he was tolerant to America alone, but intolerant 
of America when allied with France. That very 
wooden sign stood, in short, for the same thing 
as the juncture with Frederick the Great; it 
stood for that Anglo-German alliance which, at a 
very much later time in history, was to turn into 
the world-old Teutonic Race. 

Roughly and frankly speaking, we may say 
that America forced the quarrel. She wished to 
be separate, which was to her but another phrase 
for wishing to be free. She was not thinking 
of her wrongs as a colony, but already of her 
rights as a republic. The negative effect of so 
small a difference could never have changed the 

200 



WAR WITH THE GREAT REPUBLICS 

world, without the positive effect of a great ideal, 
one may say of a great new religion. The real 
case for the colonists is that they felt they could 
be something, which they also felt, and justly, 
that England would not help them to be* 
England would probably have allowed the colon- 
ists all sorts of concessions and constitutional 
privileges ; but England could not allow the 
colonists equality : I do not mean equality with 
her, but even with each other. Chatham might 
have compromised with Washington, because 
Washington was a gentleman ; but Chatham could 
hardly have conceived a country not governed by 
gentlemen. Burke was apparently ready to grant 
everything to America ; but he would not have 
been ready to grant what America eventually 
gained* If he had seen American democracy, he 
would have been as much appalled by it as he 
was by French democracy, and would always have 
been by any democracy. In a word, the Whigs 
were liberal and even generous aristocrats, but 
they were aristocrats ; that is why their conces- 
sions were as vain as their conquests. We talk, 
with a humiliation too rare with us, about our 
dubious part in the secession of America. Whether 
it increase or decrease the humiliation I do not 
know ; but I strongly suspect that we had very 
little to do with it. I believe we counted for 
uncommonly little in the case. We did not 
really drive away the American colonists, nor 
were they driven. They were led on by a light 
that went before. 

201 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

That light came from France, like the armies 
of Lafayette that came to the help of Washington. 
France was already in travail with the tremendous 
spiritual revolution which was soon to reshape the 
world. Her doctrine, disruptive and creative, 
was widely misunderstood at the time, and is 
much misunderstood still, despite the splendid 
clarity of style in which it was stated by Rousseau 
in the <c Contrat Social," and by Jefferson in The 
Declaration of Independence. Say the very 
word <c equality " in many modern countries, and 
four hundred fools will leap to their feet at once 
to explain that some men can be found, on careful 
examination, to be taller or handsomer than others. 
As if Danton had not noticed that he was taller 
than Robespierre, or as if Washington was not 
well aware that he was handsomer than Franklin. 
This is no place to expound a philosophy ; it 
will be enough to say in passing, by way of a 
parable, that when we say that all pennies are 
equal, we do not mean that they all look exactly 
the same. We mean that they are absolutely 
equal in their one absolute character, in the most 
important thing about them. It may be put 
practically by saying that they are coins of a 
certain value, twelve of which go to a shilling. 
It may be put symbolically, and even mystically, 
by saying that they all bear the image of the 
King. And, though the most mystical, it is also 
the most practical summary of equality that all 
men bear the image of the King of Kings. 
Indeed, it is of course true that this idea had long 

202 



WAR WITH THE GREAT REPUBLICS 

underlain all Christianity, even in institutions 
less popular in form than were, for instance, the 
mob of mediaeval republics in Italy. A dogma 
of equal duties implies that of equal rights. I 
know of no Christian authority that would not 
admit that it is as wicked to murder a poor man 
as a rich man, or as bad to burgle an inelegantly 
furnished house as a tastefully furnished one. 
But the world had wandered further and further 
from these truisms, and nobody in the world was 
further from them than the group of the great 
English aristocrats. The idea of the equality of 
men is in substance simply the idea or the im- 
portance of man. But it was precisely the notion 
of the importance of a mere man which seemed 
startling and indecent to a society whose whole 
romance and religion now consisted of the im- 
portance of a gentleman. It was as if a man had 
walked naked into Parliament. There is not 
space here to develop the moral issue in full, 
but this will suffice to show that the critics con- 
cerned about the difference in human types or 
talents are considerably wasting their time. If 
they can understand how two coins can count the 
same though one is bright and the other brown, 
they might perhaps understand how two men can 
vote the same though one is bright and the other 
dull. If, however, they are still satisfied with 
their solid objection that some men are dull, I 
can only gravely agree with them, that some men 
are very dull. 

But a few years after Lafayette had returned 
203 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

from helping to found a republic in America he 
was flung over his own frontiers for resisting the 
foundation of a republic in France. So furious 
was the onward stride of this new spirit that the 
republican of the new world lived to be the 
reactionary of the old. For when France passed 
from theory to practice, the question was put to 
the world in a way not thinkable in connection 
with the prefatory experiment of a thin popu- 
lation on a colonial coast* The mightiest of 
human monarchies, like some monstrous im- 
measurable idol of iron, was melted down in a 
furnace barely bigger than itself, and recast in a 
size equally colossal, but in a shape men could 
not understand. Many, at least, could not 
understand it, and least of all the liberal aris- 
tocracy of England. There were, of course, 
practical reasons for a continuous foreign policy 
against France, whether royal or republican. 
There was primarily the desire to keep any 
foreigner from menacing us from the Flemish 
coast ; there was, to a much lesser extent, the 
colonial rivalry in which so much English glory 
had been gained by the statesmanship of Chatham 
and the arms of Wolfe and of Clive. The 
former reason has returned on us with a singular 
irony ; for in order to keep the French out of 
Flanders we flung ourselves with increasing en- 
thusiasm into a fraternity with the Germans. 
We purposely fed and pampered the power which 
was destined in the fiiture to devour Belgium 
as France would never have devoured it, and 

204 



WAR WITH THE GREAT REPUBLICS 

threaten us across the sea with terrors of which 
no Frenchman would ever dream. But indeed 
much deeper things unified our attitude towards 
France before and after the Revolution. It is 
but one stride from despotism to democracy, 
in logic as well as in history ; and oligarchy is 
equally remote from both. The Bastille fell, and 
it seemed to an Englishman merely that a despot 
had turned into a demos. The young Bonaparte 
rose, and it seemed to an Englishman merely 
that a demos had once more turned into a despot. 
He was not wrong in thinking these allotropic 
forms of the same alien thing ; and that thing 
was equality. For when millions are equally 
subject to one law, it makes little difference if 
they are also subject to one lawgiver ; the 
general social life is a level. The one thing that 
the English have never understood about Na- 
poleon, in all their myriad studies of his mys- 
terious personality, is how impersonal he was. 
I had almost said how unimportant he was. He 
said himself, "I shall go down to history with 
my code in my hand ; " but in practical effects, as 
distinct from mere name and renown, it would 
be even truer to say that his code will go down 
to history with his hand set to it in signature 
somewhat illegibly. Thus his testamentary law 
has broken up big estates and encouraged con- 
tented peasants in places where his name is 
cursed, in places where his name is almost un- 
known. In his lifetime, of course, it was natural 
tkat the annihilating splendour of his military 

205 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

strokes should rivet the eye like flashes of light- 
ning ; but his rain fell more silently, and its 
refreshment remained. It is needless to repeat 
here that after bursting one world-coalition after 
another by battles that are the masterpieces of 
the military art, he was finally worn down by 
two comparatively popular causes, the resistance 
of Russia and the resistance of Spain. The 
former was largely, like so much that is Russian, 
religious ; but in the latter appeared most con- 
spicuously that which concerns us here, the 
valour, vigilance and high national spirit of 
England in the eighteenth century. The long 
Spanish campaign tried and made triumphant the 
great Irish soldier, afterwards known as Welling- 
ton ; who has become all the more symbolic 
since he was finally confronted with Napoleon in 
the last defeat of the latter at Waterloo. Wel- 
lington, though too logical to be at all English, 
was in many ways typical of the aristocracy ; he 
had irony and independence of mind. But if we 
wish to realize how rigidly such men remained 
limited by their class, how little they really knew 
what was happening in their time, it is enough 
to note that Wellington seems to have thought 
he had dismissed Napoleon by saying he was not 
really a gentleman. If an acute and experienced 
Chinaman were to say of Chinese Gordon, " He - 
is not actually a Mandarin," we should think 
that the Chinese system deserved its reputation 
for being both rigid and remote. 

But the very name of Wellington is enough 
206 



WAR WITH THE GREAT REPUBLICS 

to suggest another, and with it the reminder that 
this, though true, is inadequate. There was 
some truth in the idea that the Englishman was 
never so English as when he was outside England, 
and never smacked so much of the soil as when 
he was on the sea. There has run through the 
national psychology something that has never 
had a name except the eccentric and indeed 
extraordinary name of Robinson Crusoe ; which 
is all the more English for being quite undis- 
coverable in England. It may be doubted if a 
French or German boy especially wishes that his 
cornland or vineland were a desert ; but many 
an English boy has wished that his island were 
a desert island. But we might even say that the 
Englishman was too insular for an island. He 
awoke most to life when his island was sundered 
from the foundations of the world, when it hung 
like a planet and flew like a bird. And, by a 
contradiction, the real British army was in the 
navy ; the boldest of the islanders were scattered 
over the moving archipelago of a great fleet. 
There still lay on it, like an increasing light, the 
legend of the Armada ; it was a great fleet full 
or the glory of having once been a small one. 
Long before Wellington ever saw Waterloo the 
ships had done their work, and shattered the 
- French navy in the Spanish seas, leaving like a 
light upon the sea the life and death of Nelson, 
who died with his stars on his bosom and his 
heart upon his sleeve. There is no word for 
the memory of Nelson except to call him 

207 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

mythical. The very hour of his death, the very 
name of his ship, are touched with that epic 
completeness which critics call the long arm of 
coincidence and prophets the hand of God. His 
very faults and failures were heroic, not in a 
loose but in a classic sense ; in that he fell only 
like the legendary heroes, weakened by a woman, 
not foiled by any foe among men. And he 
remains the incarnation of a spirit in the English 
that is purely poetic ; so poetic that it fancies 
itself a thousand things, and sometimes even 
fancies itself prosaic* At a recent date, in an 
age of reason, in a country already calling itself 
dull and business-like, with top-hats and factory 
chimneys already beginning to rise like towers of 
funereal efficiency, this country clergyman's son 
moved to the last in a luminous cloud, and acted 
a fairy tale. He shall remain as a lesson to those 
who do not understand England, and a mystery 
to those who think they do. In outward action 
he led his ships to victory and died upon a 
foreign sea ; but symbolically he established 
something indescribable and intimate, something 
that sounds like a native proverb ; he was the 
man who burnt his ships, and who for ever set 
the Thames on fire. 



208 



XVI 

ARISTOCRACY AND THE DIS- 
CONTENTS 

IT is the pathos of many hackneyed things that 
they are intrinsically delicate and are only me- 
chanically made dull. Any one who has seen 
the first white light, when it comes in by a 
window, knows that daylight is- not only as 
beautiful but as mysterious as moonlight. It is 
the subtlety of the colour of sunshine that seems 
to be colourless. So patriotism, and especially 
English patriotism, which is vulgarized with 
volumes of verbal fog and gas, is still in itself 
something as tenuous and tender as a climate. 
The name of Nelson, with which the last chapter 
ended, might very well summarize the matter; 
for his name is banged and beaten about like an 
old tin can, while his sold had something in it of 
a fine and fragile eighteenth-century vase. And 
it will be found that the most threadbare things 
contemporary and connected with him have a real 
truth to the tone and meaning of his life and 
time, though for us they have too often dege- 
nerated into dead jokes. The expression cc hearts 
of oak," for instance, is no unhappy phrase for 

209 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

the finer side of that England of which he was 
the best expression. Even as a material metaphor 
it covers much of what I mean ; oak was by no 
means only made into bludgeons, nor even only 
into battle-ships ; and the English gentry did not 
think it business-like to pretend to be mere brutes. 
The mere name of oak calls back like a dream 
those dark but genial interiors of colleges and 
country houses, in which great gentlemen, not 
degenerate, almost made Latin an English lan- 
guage and port an English wine. Some part of 
that world at least will not perish ; for its autumnal 
glow passed into the brush of the great English 
portrait-painters, who, more than any other men, 
were given the power to commemorate the large 
humanity of their own land ; immortalizing a 
mood as broad and soft as their own brush-work. 
Come naturally, at the right emotional angle, upon 
a canvass of Gainsborough, who painted ladies 
like landscapes, as great and as unconscious with 
repose, and you will note how subtly the artist 
gives to a dress flowing in the foreground some- 
thing of the divine quality of distance. Then 
you will understand another faded phrase and 
words spoken far away upon the sea ; there will 
rise up quite fresh before you and be borne upon 
a bar of music, like words you have never heard 
before : " For England, home, and beauty." 

When I think of these things, 1 have no 

temptation to mere grumbling at the great gentry 

that waged the great war of our fathers. But 

indeed the difficulty about it was something much 

210 



ARISTOCRACY AND THE DISCONTENTS 

deeper than could be dealt with by any grumbling* 
It was an exclusive class, but not an exclusive 
life ; it was interested in all things, though not 
for all men* Or rather those things it failed to 
include, through the limitations of this rationalist 
interval between mediaeval and modern mysticism, 
were at least not of the sort to shock us with 
superficial inhumanity. The greatest gap in their 
souls, for those who think it a gap, was their 
complete and complacent paganism. All their 
very decencies assumed that the old faith was 
dead ; those who held it still, like the great 
Johnson, were considered eccentrics. The French 
Revolution was a riot that broke up the very 
formal funeral of Christianity ; and was followed 
by various other complications, including the 
corpse coming to life. But the scepticism was 
no mere oligarchic orgy ; it was not confined to 
the Hell-Fire Club ; which might in virtue of its 
vivid name be regarded as relatively orthodox. 
It is present in the mildest middle-class atmo- 
sphere ; as in the middle-class masterpiece about 
* Northanger Abbey," where we actually remem- 
ber it is an antiquity, without ever remembering 
it is an abbey. Indeed there is no clearer case of 
it than what can only be called the atheism of 
Jane Austen. 

Unfortunately it could truly be said of the 
English gentleman, as of another gallant and 
gracious individual, that his honour stood rooted 
in dishonour. He was, indeed, somewhat in the 
position of such an aristocrat in a romance, whose 

211 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

splendour has the dark spot of a secret and a sort 
of blackmail. There was, to begin with, an un- 
comfortable paradox in the tale of his pedigree. 
Many heroes have claimed to be descended From 
the gods, from beings greater than themselves ; 
but he himself was far more heroic than his 
ancestors. His glory did not come from the 
Crusades but from the Great Pillage. His fathers 
had not come over with William the Conqueror, 
but only assisted, in a somewhat shuffling manner, 
at the coming over of William of Orange. His 
own exploits were often really romantic, in the 
cities of the Indian sultans or the war of the 
wooden ships ; it was the exploits of the far-off 
founders of his family that were painfully realistic. 
In this the great gentry were more in the position 
of Napoleonic marshals than of Norman knights, 
but their position was worse ; for the marshals 
might be descended from peasants and shop- 
keepers ; but the oligarchs were descended from 
usurers and thieves. That, for good or evil, was 
the paradox of England ; the typical aristocrat 
was the typical upstart. 

But the secret was worse ; not only was such 
a family founded on stealing, but the family was 
stealing still. It is a grim truth that all through 
the eighteenth century, all through the great 
Whig speeches about liberty, all through the great 
Tory speeches about patriotism, through the 
period of Wandcwash and Pkssy, through the 
period of Trafalgar and Waterloo, one process 
was steadily going on in the central senate of the 

212 



ARISTOCRACY AND THE DISCONTENTS 

nation. Parliament was passing bill after bill for 
the enclosure, by the great landlords, of such of 
the common lands as had survived out of the 
great communal system of the Middle Ages* It 
is much more than a pun, it is the prime political 
irony of our history, that the Commons were 
destroying the commons. The very word 
"common," as we have before noted, lost its 
great moral meaning, and became a mere topo- 
graphical term for some remaining scrap of scrub 
or heath that was not worth stealing. In the 
eighteenth century these kst and lingering com- 
mons were connected only with stories about 
highwaymen, which still linger in our literature. 
The romance of them was a romance of robbers ; 
but not of the real robbers. 

This was the mysterious sin of the English 
squires, that they remained human, and yet ruined 
humanity all around them. Their own ideal, 
nay their own reality of life, was really more 
generous and genial than the stiff savagery of 
Puritan captains and Prussian nobles ; but the 
land withered under their smile as under an alien 
frown. Being still at least English, they were 
still in their way good-natured ; but their position 
was false, and a false position forces the good- 
natured into brutality. The French Revolution 
was the challenge that really revealed to the Whigs 
that they must make up their minds to be really 
democrats or admit that they were really aristocrats. 
They decided, as in the case of their philosophic 
exponent Burke, to be really aristocrats ; and the 

H 213 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

result was the White Terror, the period of Anti- 
Jacobin repression which revealed the real side of 
their S7mpathies more than any stricken fields in 
foreign lands. Cobbett, the last and greatest of 
the yeomen, of the small farming class which the 
great estates were devouring daily, was thrown 
into prison merely for protesting against the 
flogging of English soldiers by German merce- 
naries. In that savage dispersal of a peaceful 
meeting which was called the Massacre of Peterloo, 
English soldiers were indeed employed, though 
much more in the spirit of German ones. And 
it is one of the bitter satires that cling to the 
very continuity of our history, that such sup- 
pression of the old yeoman spirit was the work 
of soldiers who still bore the title of the Yeomanry. 
The name of Cobbett is very important here ; 
indeed it is generally ignored because it is impor- 
tant Cobbett was the one man who saw the 
tendency of the time as a whole, and challenged 
it as a whole ; consequently he went without 
support. It is a mark of our whole modern his- 
tory that the masses are kept quiet with a fight. 
They are kept quiet by the fight because it is a 
sham-fight ; thus most of us know by this time 
that the Party System has been popular only in 
the same sense that a football match is popular. 
The division in Cobbett's time was slightly more 
sincere, but almost as superficial ; it was a differ- 
ence of sentiment about externals which divided the 
old agricultural gentry of the eighteenth century 
from the new mercantile gentry of the nineteenth. 

214 



ARISTOCRACY AND THE DISCONTENTS 

Through the first half of the nineteenth century 
there were some real disputes between the 
squire and the merchant. The merchant be- 
came converted to the important economic thesis 
of Free Trade, and accused the squire of starving 
the poor by dear bread to keep up his agrarian 
privilege* Later the squire retorted not ineffec- 
tively by accusing the merchant of brutalizing 
the poor by overworking them in his factories to 
keep up his commercial success. The passing of 
the Factory Acts was a confession of the cruelty 
that underlay the new industrial experiments, just 
as the Repeal of the Corn Laws was a confession 
of the comparative weakness and unpopularity of 
the squires, who had destroyed the last remnants 
of any peasantry that might have defended the 
field against the factory. These relatively real 
disputes would bring us to the middle of the 
Victorian era. But long before the beginning of 
the Victorian era, Cobbett had seen and said that 
the disputes were only relatively real. Or rather 
he would have said, in his more robust fashion, 
that they were not real at all. He would have 
said that the agricultural pot and the industrial 
kettle were calling each other black, when they 
had both been, blackened in the same kitchen. 
And he would have been substantially right ; for 
the great industrial disciple of the kettle, James 
Watt (who learnt from it the lesson of the steam 
engine), was typical of the age in this, that he 
found the old Trade Guilds too fallen, unfashion- 
able and out of touch with the times to help his 

215 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

discovery, so that he had recourse to the rich 
minority which had warred on and weakened those 
Guilds since the Reformation. There was no 
prosperous peasant's pot, such as Henry of 
Navarre invoked, to enter into alliance with the 
kettle. In other words, there was in the strict 
sense of the word no commonwealth, because 
wealth, though more and more wealthy, was less 
and less common. Whether it be a credit or dis- 
credit, industrial science and enterprise were in 
bulk a new experiment of the old oligarchy ; and 
the old oligarchy had always been ready for new 
experiments beginning with the Reformation. 
And it is characteristic of the clear mind which 
was hidden from many by the hot temper of 
Cobbett, that he did see the Reformation as the 
root of both squirearchy and industrialism, and 
called on the people to break away from both. 
The people made more effort to do so than is 
commonly realized. There are many silences in 
our somewhat snobbish history ; and when the 
educated class can easily suppress a revolt, they 
can still more easily suppress the record of it. 
It was so with some of the chief features of that 
great mediaeval revolution the failure of which, or 
rather the betrayal of which, was the real turning- 
point of our history. It was so with the revolts 
against the religious policy of Henry VIII. ; and 
it was so with the rick-burning and frame-breaking 
riots of Cobbett's epoch. The real mob re- 
appeared for a moment in our history, for just 
long enough to show one of the immortal marks 

216 



ARISTOCRACY AND THE DISCONTENTS 

of the real mob ritualism. There is nothing 
that strikes the undemocratic doctrinaire so sharply 
about direct democratic action as the vanity or 
mummery of the things done seriously in the 
daylight ; they astonish him by being as unprac- 
tical as a poem or a prayer. The French Revo- 
lutionists stormed an empty prison merely because 
it was large and solid and difficult to storm, and 
therefore symbolic of the mighty monarchical 
machinery of which it had been but the shed. 
The English rioters laboriously broke in pieces a 
parish grindstone, merely because it was large 
and solid and difficult to break, and therefore 
symbolic of the mighty oligarchical machinery 
which perpetually ground the faces of the poor. 
They also put the oppressive agent of some land- 
lord in a cart and escorted him round the county, 
merely to exhibit his horrible personality to 
heaven and earth. Afterwards they let him go, 
which marks perhaps, for good or evil, a certain 
national modification of the movement. There 
is something very typical of an English revolution 
in having the tumbril without the guillotine. 

Anyhow, these embers of the revolutionary 
epoch were trodden out very brutally ; the grind- 
stone continued (and continues) to grind in the 
scriptural fashion above referred to, and, in most 
political crises since, it is the crowd that has found 
itself in the cart. But, of course, both the riot 
and repression in England were but shadows of 
the awful revolt and vengeance which crowned the 
parallel process in Ireland. Here the terrorism, 

217 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

which was but a temporary and desperate tool of 
the aristocrats in England (not being, to do them 
justice, at all consonant to their temperament, 
which had neither the cruelty and morbidity nor 
the logic and fixity of terrorism), became in a more 
spiritual atmosphere a flaming sword of religious 
and racial insanity, Pitt, the son of Chatham, 
was quite unfit to fill his father's place, unfit 
indeed (I cannot but think) to fill the place com- 
monly given him in history. But if he was wholly 
worthy of his immortality, his Irish expedients, 
even if considered as immediately defensible, 
have not been worthy of their immortality. He 
was sincerely convinced of the national need to 
raise coalition after coalition against Napoleon, 
by pouring the commercial wealth then rather 
peculiar to England upon her poorer Allies, and 
he did this with indubitable talent and pertinacity. 
He was at the same time faced with a hostile 
Irish rebellion and a partly or potentially hostile 
Irish Parliament. He broke the latter by the 
most indecent bribery and the former by the most 
indecent brutality, but he may well have thought 
himself entitled to the tyrants plea. But not only 
were his expedients those of panic, or at any rate 
of peril, but (what is less clearly realized) it is the 
only real defence of them that they were those 
of panic and peril. He was ready to emancipate 
Catholics as such, for religious bigotry was not 
the vice of the oligarchy ; but he was not ready to 
emancipate Irishmen as such. He did not really 
want to enlist Ireland like a recruit, but simply 

218 



ARISTOCRACY AND THE DISCONTENTS 

to disarm Ireland like an enemy. Hence his 
settlement was from the first in a false position 
for settling anything. The Union may have been 
a necessity, but the Union was not a Union. It 
was not intended to be one, and nobody has ever 
treated it as one. We have not only never 
succeeded in making Ireland English, as Bur- 
gundy has been made French, but we have never 
tried. Burgundy could boast of Corneille, though 
Corneille was a Norman, but we should smile if 
Ireland boasted of Shakespeare. Our vanity has 
involved us in a mere contradiction ; we have tried 
to combine identification with superiority. It is 
simply weak-minded to sneer at an Irishman if 
he figures as an Englishman, and rail at him if he 
figures as an Irishman. So the Union has never 
even applied English laws to Ireland, but only 
coercions and concessions both specially designed 
for Ireland. From Pitt's time to our own this 
tottering alternation has continued ; from the time 
when the great O'Connell, with his monster 
meetings, forced our government to listen to 
Catholic Emancipation to the time when the great 
Parnell, with his obstruction, forced it to listen 
to Home Rule, our staggering equilibrium has 
been maintained by blows from without. In the 
later nineteenth century the better sort of special 
treatment began on the whole to increase. Glad- 
stone, an idealistic though inconsistent Liberal, 
rather belatedly realized that the freedom he loved 
in Greece and Italy had its rights nearer home, 
and may be said to have found a second youth 

219 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

in the gateway of the grave, in the eloquence and 
emphasis of his conversion. And a statesman 
wearing the opposite label (for what that is worth) 
had the spiritual insight to see that Ireland, if 
resolved to be a nation, was even more resolved 
to be a peasantry. George Wyndham, generous, 
imaginative, a man among politicians, insisted that 
the agrarian agony of evictions, shootings, and 
rack-rentings should end with the individual Irish 
getting, as Parnell had put it, a grip on their 
farms. In more ways than one his work rounds 
off almost romantically the tragedy of the rebellion 
against Pitt, for Wyndham himself was of the 
blood of the leader of the rebels, and he wrought 
the only reparation yet made for all the blood, 
shamefully shed, that flowed around the fall of 
FitzGerald. 

The effect on England was less tragic ; indeed, 
in a sense it was comic. Wellington, himself an 
Irishman though of the narrower party, was pre- 
eminently a realist, and, like many Irishmen, was 
especially a realist about Englishmen. He said 
the army he commanded was the scum of the 
earth ; and the remark is none the less valuable 
because that army proved itself useful enough to 
be called the salt of the earth. But in truth it 
was in this something of a national symbol and 
the guardian, as it were, of a national secret. 
There is a parodox about the English, even as 
distinct from the Irish or the Scotch, which makes 
any formal version of their plans and principles 
inevitably unjust to them. England not only 

220 



ARISTOCRACY AND THE DISCONTENTS 

makes her ramparts out of rubbish, but she finds 
ramparts in what she has herself cast away as 
rubbish. If it be a tribute to a thing to say that 
even its failures have been successes, there is truth 
in that tribute. Some of the best colonies were 
convict settlements, and might be called abandoned 
convict settlements. The army was largely an 
army of gaol-birds, raised by gaol-delivery ; but 
it was a good army of bad men ; nay, it was a 
gay army of unfortunate men. This is the colour 
and the character that has run through the reali- 
ties of English history, and it can hardly be put 
in a book, least of all a historical book. It has 
its flashes in our fantastic fiction and in the songs 
of the street, but its true medium is conversation. 
It has no name but incongruity. An illogical 
laughter survives everything in the English souL 
It survived, perhaps, with only too much patience, 
the time of terrorism in which the more serious 
Irish rose in revolt. That time was full of a 
quite topsy-turvey tyranny, and the English 
humorist stood on his head to suit it. Indeed, 
he often receives a quite irrational sentence in 
a police court by saying he will do it on his head. 
So, under Pitt's coercionist regime, a man was 
sent to prison for saying that George IV. was fat ; 
but we feel he must have been partly sustained in 
prison by the artistic contemplation of how fat he 
was. That sort of liberty, that sort of humanity, 
and it is no mean sort, did indeed survive all the 
drift and downward eddy of an evil economic 
system, as well as the dragooning of a reactionary 

22 x 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

epoch and the drearier menace of materialistic 
social science, as embodied in the new Puritans, 
who have purified themselves even of religion. 
Under this long process, the worst that can be 
said is that the English humorist has been slowly 
driven downwards in the social scale. Falstaff was 
a knight, Sam Weller was a gentleman's servant, 
and some of our recent restrictions seem designed 
to drive Sam Weller to the status of the Artful 
Dodger* But well it was for us that some such 
trampled tradition and dark memory of Merry 
England survived ; well for us, as we shall see, 
that all our social science failed and all our states- 
manship broke down before it. For there was 
to come the noise of a trumpet and a dreadful 
day of visitation, in which all the daily workers 
of a dull civilization were to be called out of their 
houses and their holes like a resurrection of the 
dead, and left naked under a strange sun with no 
religion but a sense of humour. And men might 
know of what nation Shakespeare was, who broke 
into puns and practical jokes in the darkest 
passion of his tragedies, if they had only heard 
those boys in France and Flanders who called 
out <c Early Doors ! " themselves in a theatrical 
memory, as they went so early in their youth to 
break down the doors of death. 



222 



XVII 
THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 

THE only way to write a popular history, as we 
have already remarked, would be to write it back- 
wards. It would be to take common objects of 
our own street and tell the tale of how each of 
them came to be in the street at all. And for 
my immediate purpose it is really convenient to 
take two objects we have known all our lives, as 
features of fashion or respectability. One, which 
has grown rarer recently, is what we call a top- 
hat ; the other, which is still a customary for- 
mality, is a pair of trousers. The history or these 
humorous objects really does give a clue to what 
has happened in England for the kst hundred 
years. It is not necessary to be an aesthete in 
order to regard both objects as the reverse of 
beautiful, as tested by what may be called the 
rational side of beauty. The lines of human 
limbs can be beautiful, and so can the lines of 
loose drapery, but not cylinders too loose to be 
the first and too tight to be the second. Nor is 
a subtle sense of harmony needed to see that 
while there are hundreds of differently propor- 
tioned hats, a hat that actually grows larger towards 

223 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

the top is somewhat top-heavy. But what is 
largely forgotten is this, that these two fantastic 
objects, which now strike the eye as unconscious 
freaks, were originally conscious freaks. Our 
ancestors, to do them justice, did not think them 
casual or commonplace ; they thought them, if 
not ridiculous, at least rococo. The top-hat was 
the topmost point of a riot of Regency dandyism, 
and bucks wore trousers while business men were 
still wearing knee-breeches. It will not be 
fanciful to see a certain oriental touch in trousers, 
which the kter Romans also regarded as effemi- 
nately oriental ; it was an oriental touch found in 
many florid things of the time in Byron's poems 
or Brighton Pavilion. Now, the interesting^point 
is that for a whole serious century these instan- 
taneous fantasies have remained like fossils. In 
the carnival of the Regency a few fools got into 
fancy dress, and we have all remained in fancy 
dress. At least, we have remained in the dress, 
though we have lost the fancy. 

I say this is typical of the most important 
thing that happened in the Victorian time. For 
the most important thing was that nothing hap- 
pened. The very fiiss that was made about 
minor modifications brings into relief the rigidity 
with which the main lines of social life were left 
as they were at the French Revolution. We talk 
of the French Revolution as something that 
changed the world ; but its most important rela- 
tion to England is that it did not change England. 
A student of our history is concerned rather with 

224 



THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 

the effect it did not have than the effect it did. If it 
be a splendid fate to have survived the Flood, the 
English oligarchy had that added splendour. But 
even for the countries in which the Revolution 
was a convulsion, it was the last convulsion 
until that which shakes the world to-day. It 
gave their character to all the commonwealths, 
which all talked about progress, and were occupied 
in marking time. Frenchmen, under all super- 
ficial reactions, remained republican in spirit, as 
they had been when they first wore top-hats* 
Englishmen, under all superficial reforms, re- 
mained oligarchical in spirit, as they had been 
when they first wore trousers. Only one power 
might be said to be growing, and that in a plod- 
ding and prosaic fashion the power in the North- 
East whose name was Prussia. And the English 
were more and more learning that this growth 
need cause them no alarm, since the North Ger- 
mans were their cousins in blood and their brothers 
in spirit. 

The first thing to note, then, about the nine- 
teenth century is that Europe remained herself as 
compared with the Europe of the great war, and 
that England especially remained herself as com- 
pared even with the rest of Europe. Granted 
this, we may give their proper importance to the 
cautious internal changes in this country, the 
small conscious and the large unconscious changes. 
Most of the conscious ones were much upon the 
model of an early one, the great Reform Bill of 
1832, and can be considered in the light of it 

225 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

First, from the standpoint of most real reformers 
the chief thing about the Reform Bill was that it 
did not reform. It had a huge tide of popular 
enthusiasm behind it, which wholly disappeared 
when the people found themselves in front of it. 
It enfranchised large masses of the middle classes 
it disfranchised very definite bodies of the working 
classes ; and it so struck the balance between the 
conservative and the dangerous elements in the 
commonwealth that the governing class was rather 
stronger than before. The date, however, is 
important, not at all because it was the beginning 
of democracy, but because it was the beginning of 
the best way ever discovered of evading and post- 
poning democracy. Here enters the homoeopathic 
treatment of revolution, since so often successful. 
Well into the next generation Disraeli, the brilliant 
Jewish adventurer who was the symbol of the 
English aristocracy being no longer genuine, ex- 
tended the franchise to the artisans, partly, indeed, 
as a party move against his great rival, Gladstone* 
but more as the method by which the old popular 
pressure was first tired out and then toned down, 
The politicians said the working-class was now 
strong enough to be allowed votes. It would be 
truer to say it was now weak enough to be allowed 
votes. So in more recent times Payment of 
Members, which would once have been regarded 
(and resisted) as an inrush of popular forces, was 
passed quietly and without resistance, and regarded 
merely as an extension of parliamentary privileges. 
The truth is that the old parliamentary oligarchy 
226 



THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 

abandoned their first line of trenches because they 
had by that time constructed a second line of de- 
fence. It consisted in the concentration of colossal 
political funds in the private and irresponsible 
power of the politicians, collected by the sale of 
peerages and more important things, and expended 
on the jerrymandering of the enormously expensive 
elections. In the presence of this inner obstacle 
a vote became about as valuable as a railway ticket 
when there is a permanent block on the line. 
The facade and outward form of this new secret 
government is the merely mechanical application 
of what is called the Party System. The Party 
System does not consist, as some suppose, of two 
parties, but of one. If there were two real parties, 
there could be no system. 

But if this was the evolution of parliamentary 
reform, as represented by the first Reform Bill, we 
can see the other side of it in the social reform 
attacked immediately after the first Reform Bill. 
It is a truth that should be a tower and a land- 
mark, that one of the first things done by the 
Reform Parliament was to establish those harsh 
and dehumanised workhouses which both honest 
Radicals and honest Tories branded with the 
black tide of the New Bastille. This bitter name 
lingers in our literature, and can be found by the 
curious in the works of Carlyle and Hood, but it 
is doubtless interesting rather as a note of con- 
temporary indignation than as a correct com- 
parison. It is easy to imagine the logicians and 
legal orators of the parliamentary school of 

227 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

progress finding many points of differentiation and 
even of contrast. The Bastille was one central 
institution ; the workhouses have been many, and 
have everywhere transformed local life with what- 
ever they have to give of social sympathy and 
inspiration. Men of high rank and great wealth 
were frequently sent to the Bastille ; but no such 
mistake has ever been made by the more business 
administration of the workhouse. Over the most 
capricious operations of the lettres de cachet there 
still hovered some hazy traditional idea that a 
man is put in prison to punish him for some- 
thing. It was the discovery of a later social science 
that men who cannot be punished can still be 
imprisoned. But the deepest and most decisive 
difference lies in the better fortune of the New 
Bastille ; for no mob has ever dared to storm it, 
and it never fell. 

The New Poor Law was indeed not wholly 
new in the sense that it was the culmination and 
dear enunciation of a principle foreshadowed in 
the earlier Poor Law of Elizabeth, which was one 
of the many anti-popular effects of the Great 
Pillage. When the monasteries were swept away 
and die mediaeval system of hospitality destroyed, 
tramps and beggars became a problem, the solu- 
tion of which has always tended towards slavery, 
even when the question of slavery has been cleared 
of the irrelevant question of cruelty. It is obvious 
that a desperate man might find Mr. Bumble 
and the Board of Guardians less cruel than cold 
weather and the bare ground even if he were 

228 



THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 

allowed to sleep on the ground, which (by a verit- 
able nightmare of nonsense and injustice) he is 
not. He is actually punished for sleeping under 
a bush on the specific and stated ground that he 
cannot afford a bed. It is obvious, however, that 
he may find his best physical good by going into 
the workhouse, as he often found it in pagan 
times by selling himself into slavery. The point 
is that the solution remains servile, even when 
Mr. Bumble and the Board of Guardians ceased 
to be in a common sense cruel. The pagan might 
have the luck to sell himself to a kind master. 
The principle of the New Poor Law, which has 
so far proved permanent in our society, is that 
the man lost all his civic rights and lost them 
solely through poverty. There as a touch of 
irony, though hardly of mere hypocrisy, in the 
fact that the Parliament which effected this 
reform had just been abolishing black slavery 
by buying out the slave-owners in the British 
colonies. The slave-owners were bought out at 
a price big enough to be called blackmail ; but 
it would be misunderstanding the national men- 
tality to deny the sincerity of the sentiment. 
Wilberforce represented in this the real wave of 
Wesleyan religion which had made a humane re- 
action against Calvinism, and was in no mean sense 
philanthropic. But there is something romantic 
in the English mind which can always see what is 
remote. It is the strongest example of what men 
lose by being long-sighted. It is fair to say that 
they gain many things also, the poems that are 

229 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

like adventures and the adventures that are like 
poems. It is a national savour, and therefore in 
itself neither good nor evil ; and it depends on the 
application whether we find a scriptural text for 
it in the wish to take the wings of the morning 
and abide in the uttermost parts of the sea, or 
merely in the saying that the eyes of a fool are 
in the ends of the earth. 

Anyhow, the unconscious nineteenth-century 
movement, so slow that it seems stationary, was 
altogether in this direction, of which workhouse 
philanthropy is the type. Nevertheless, it had 
one national institution to combat and overcome ; 
one institution all the more intensely national 
because it was not official, and in a sense not 
even political. The modern Trade Union was 
the inspiration and creation of the English ; 
it is still largely known throughout Europe by 
its English name. It was the English expression 
of the European effort to resist the tendency of 
Capitalism to reach its natural culmination in 
slavery. In this it has an almost weird psycho- 
logical interest, for it is a return to the past by 
men ignorant of the past, like the subconscious 
action of some man who has lost his memory. We 
say that history repeats itself, and it is even more 
interesting when it unconsciously repeats itself. No 
man on earth is kept so ignorant of the Middle 
Ages as the British workman, except perhaps the 
British business man who employs him. Yet all 
who know even a little of the Middle Ages can see 
that the modern Trade Union is a groping for the 

230 



THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 

ancient Guild. It is true that those who look to the 
Trade Union, and even those clear-sighted enough 
to call it the Guild, are often without the faintest 
tinge of mediaeval mysticism, or even of mediaeval 
morality* But this fact is itself the most striking 
and even staggering tribute to mediaeval morality. 
It has all the clinching logic of coincidence. If 
large numbers of the most hard-headed atheists 
had evolved, out of their own inner consciousness, 
the notion that a number of bachelors or spinsters 
ought to live together in celibate groups for the 
good of the poor, or the observation of certain 
hours and offices, it would be a very strong point 
in favour of the monasteries. It would be all 
the stronger if the atheists had never heard of 
monasteries ; it would be strongest of all if they 
hated the very name of monasteries. And it is 
all the stronger because the man who puts his 
trust in Trades Unions does not call himself a 
Catholic or even a Christian, if he does call him- 
self a Guild Socialist. 

The Trade Union movement passed through 
many perils, including a ludicrous attempt of cer- 
tain lawyers to condemn as a criminal conspiracy 
that Trade Union solidarity, of which their own 
profession is the strongest and most startling 
example in the world. The struggle culminated 
in gigantic strikes which split the country in 
every direction in the earlier part of the twentieth 
century. But another process, with much more 
power at its back, was also in operation. The prin- 
ciple represented by the New Poor Law proceeded 

231 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

on its course, and in one important respect 
altered its course, though it can hardly be said to 
have altered its object. It can most correctly be 
stated by saying that the employers themselves, 
who already organized business, began to organize 
social reform. It was more picturesquely ex- 
pressed by a cynical aristocrat in Parliament who 
said, c< We are all Socialists now." The Socialists, 
a body of completely sincere men led by several 
conspicuously brilliant men, had long hammered 
into men's heads the hopeless sterility of mere 
non-interference in exchange. The Socialists 
proposed that the State should not merely inter- 
fere in business but should take over the business, 
and pay all men as equal wage-earners, or at any 
rate as wage-earners. The employers were not 
willing to surrender their own position to the 
State, and this project has largely faded from 
politics. But the wiser of them were willing to 
pay better wages, and they were specially wilting 
to bestow various other benefits so long as they 
were bestowed after the manner of wages. Thus 
we had a series of social reforms which, for good 
or evil, all tended in the same direction ; the per- 
mission to employees to claim certain advantages 
as employees, and as something permanently dif- 
ferent from employers. Of these the obvious 
examples were Employers' Liability, Old Age 
Pensions, and, as marking another and more 
decisive stride in the process, the Insurance Act. 

The latter in particular, and the whole plan 
of the social reform in general, were modelled 
232 



THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 

upon Germany. Indeed the whole English life 
of this period was overshadowed by Germany. 
We had now reached, for good or evil, the final 
fulfilment of that gathering influence which began 
to grow on us in the seventeenth century, which 
was solidified by the military alliances of the 
eighteenth century, and which in the nineteenth 
century had been turned into a philosophy not 
to say a mythology. German metaphysics had 
thinned our theology, so that many a man's most 
solemn conviction about Good Friday was that 
Friday was named after Freya. German history 
had simply annexed English history, so that it 
was almost counted the duty of any patriotic 
Englishman to, be proud of being a German. 
The genius of Carlyle, the culture preached by 
Matthew Arnold, would not, persuasive as they 
were, have alone produced this effect but for an 
external phenomenon of great force. Our internal 
policy was transformed by our foreign policy ; 
and foreign policy was dominated by the more 
and more drastic steps which the Prussian, now 
clearly the prince of all the German tribes, was 
taking to extend the German influence in the 
world. Denmark was robbed of two provinces ; 
France was robbed of two provinces ; and though 
the fall of Paris was felt almost everywhere as the 
fall of the capital of civilization, a thing like the 
sacking of Rome by the Goths, many of the mosi 
influential people in England still saw nothing 
in it but the solid success of our kinsmen and 
old allies of Waterloo. The moral methods 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

which achieved it, the juggling with the Augusten- 
burg claim, the forgery of the Ems telegram, were 
either successfully concealed or were but cloudily 
appreciated. The Higher Criticism had entered 
into our ethics as well as our theology. Our 
view of Europe was also distorted and made dis- 
proportionate by the accident of a natural concern 
for Constantinople and our route to India, which 
led Palmerston and later Premiers to support the 
Turk and see Russia as the only enemy. This 
somewhat cynical reaction was summed up in the 
strange figure of Disraeli, who made a pro- 
Turkish settlement full of his native indifference 
to the Christian subjects of Turkey, and sealed it 
at Berlin in the presence of Bismarck. Disraeli 
was not without insight into the inconsistencies 
and illusions of the English ; he said many saga- 
cious things about them, and one especially when 
he told the Manchester School that their motto 
was <c Peace and Plenty, amid a starving people, 
and with the world in arms/' But what he said 
about Peace and Plenty might well be parodied as 
a comment on what he himself said about Peace 
with Honour. Returning from that Berlin Con- 
ference he should have said, " I bring you Peace 
with Honour ; peace with the seeds of the most 
horrible war of history ; and honour as the dupes 
and victims of the old bully in Berlin." 

But it was, as we have seen, especially in 

social reform that Germany was believed to be 

leading the way, and to have found the secret of 

dealing with the economic evil. In the case of 

234 



THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 

Insurance, which was the test case, she was 
applauded for obliging all her workmen to set 
apart a portion of their wages for any time of 
sickness ; and numerous other provisions, both in 
Germany and England, pursued the same ideal, 
which was that of protecting the poor against 
themselves. It everywhere involved an external 
power having a finger in the family pie ; but 
little attention was paid to any friction thus 
caused, for all prejudices against the process were 
supposed to be the growth of ignorance. And 
that ignorance was already being attacked by what 
was called education an enterprise also inspired 
largely by the example, and partly by the com- 
mercial competition of Germany. It was pointed 
out that in Germany governments and great em- 
ployers thought it well worth their while to apply 
the grandest scale of organization and the minutest 
inquisition of detail to the instruction of the 
whole German race. The government was the 
stronger for training its scholars as it trained its 
soldiers ; the big businesses were the stronger 
for manufacturing mind as they manufactured 
material. English education was made com- 
pulsory ; it was made free ; many good, earnest, 
and enthusiastic men laboured to create a kdder 
of standards and examinations, which would con- 
nect the cleverest of the poor with the culture 
of the English universities and the current teach- 
ing in history or philosophy. But it cannot be 
said that die connection was very complete, or 
the achievement so thorough as the German 

235 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

achievement For whatever reason, the poor 
Englishman remained in many things much as 
his fathers had been, and seemed to think the 
Higher Criticism too high for him even to 
criticize. 

And then a day came, and if we were wise, 
we thanked God that we had failed. Education, 
if it had ever really been in question, would 
doubtless have been a noble gift ; education in 
the sense of the central tradition of history, with 
its freedom, its family honour, its chivalry which 
is the flower of Christendom. But what would 
our populace, in our epoch, have actually learned 
if they had learned all that our schools and uni- 
versities had to teach ? That England was but a 
little branch on a large Teutonic tree ; that an 
unfathomable spiritual sympathy, all-encircling 
like the sea, had always made us the natural allies 
of the great folk by the flowing Rhine ; that all 
light came from Luther and Lutheran Germany, 
whose science was still purging Christianity of its 
Greek and Roman accretions ; that Germany was 
a forest fated to grow ; that France was a dung- 
heap fated to decay a dung-heap with a crowing 
cock on it What would the ladder of education 
have led to, except a platform on which a postur- 
ing professor proved that a cousin german was 
the same as a German cousin ? What would the 
guttersnipe have learnt as a graduate, except to 
embrace a Saxon because he was the other half 
of an Anglo-Saxon ? The day came, and the 
ignorant fellow found he had other things to 

236 



THE RETURN OF THE BARBARIAN 

learn. And he was quicker than his educated 
countrymen, for he had nothing to unlearn. 

He in whose honour all had been said and 
sung stirred, and stepped across the border of 
Belgium. Then were spread out before men's 
eyes all the beauties of his culture and all the 
benefits of his organization ; then we beheld 
under a lifting daybreak what light we had fol- 
lowed and after what image we had laboured to 
refashion ourselves. Nor in any story of man- 
kind has the irony of God chosen the foolish 
things so catastrophically to confound the wise. 
For the common crowd of poor and ignorant 
Englishmen, because they only knew that they 
were Englishmen, burst through the filthy cob- 
webs of four hundred years and stood where their 
fathers stood when they knew that they were 
Christian men. The English poor, broken in 
every revolt, bullied by every fashion, long de- 
spoiled of property, and now being despoiled of 
liberty, entered history with a noise of trumpets, 
and turned themselves in two years into one 
of the iron armies of the world. And when the 
critic of politics and literature, feeling that this 
war is after all heroic, looks around him to find 
the hero, he can point to nothing but a mob. 



237 



XVIII 
CONCLUSION 

IN so small a book on so large a matter, finished 
hastily enough amid the necessities of an enor- 
mous national crisis, it would be absurd to pretend 
to have achieved proportion ; but I will confess 
to some attempt to correct a disproportion. WE 
talk of historical perspective, but I rather fancy 
there is too much perspective in history ; for 
perspective makes a giant a pigmy and a pigmy 
a giant The past is a giant foreshortened with 
his feet towards us ; and sometimes the feet are 
of clay. We see too much merely the sunset 
of the Middle Ages, even when we admire its 
colours ; and the study of a man like Napoleon 
is too often that of " The Last Phase." So there 
is a spirit that thinks it reasonable to deal in 
detail with Old Sarum, and would think it ridi- 
culous to deal in detail with the Use of Sarum ; 
or which erects in Kensington Gardens a golden 
monument to Albert larger than anybody has 
ever erected to Alfred. English history is mis- 
read especially, I think, because the crisis is 
missed. It is usually put about the period of 
the Stuarts ; and many of the memorials of our 

238 



CONCLUSION 

past seem to suffer from the same visitation as 
the memorial of Mr. Dick. But though the 
story of the Stuarts was a tragedy, I think it 
was also an epilogue. 

I make the guess, for it can be no more, that 
the change really came with the fall of Richard II., 
following on his failure to use mediaeval des- 
potism in the interests of mediaeval democracy. 
England, like the other nations of Christendom, 
had been created not so much by the death of 
the ancient civilization as by its escape from 
death, or by its refusal to die. Mediaeval civili- 
zation had arisen out of the resistance to the 
barbarians, to the naked barbarism from the North 
and the more subtle barbarism from the East. 
It increased in liberties and local government 
under kings who controlled the wider things of 
war and taxation ; and in the peasant war of the 
fourteenth century in Engknd, the king and the 
populace came for a moment into conscious 
alliance. They both found that a third thing 
was already too strong for them. That third 
thing was the aristocracy ; and it captured and 
called itself the Parliament. The House of Com- 
mons, as its name implies, had primarily consisted 
of plain men summoned by the King like Jury 1 
men ; but it soon became a very special jury. It 
became, for good or evil, a great organ of 
government, surviving the Church, the monarchy 
and the mob ; it did many grfeat and not a few 
good things. It created what we call the British 
Empire ; it created something which was really 



A SHORT HISTORY OF ENGLAND 

far more valuable, a new and natural sort of 
aristocracy, more humane and even humanitarian 
than most of the aristocracies of the world. It 
had sufficient sense of the instincts of the people, 
at least until lately, to respect the liberty and 
especially the laughter that had become almost 
the religion of the race. But in doing all this, 
it deliberately did two other things, which it 
thought a natural part of its policy ; it took the 
side of the Protestants, and then (partly as a 
consequence) it took the side of the Germans. 
Until very lately most intelligent Englishmen 
were quite honestly convinced that in both it was 
taking the side of progress against decay. The 
question which many of them are now inevitably 
asking themselves, and would ask whether I 
asked it or no, is whether it did not rather take 
the side of barbarism against civilization. 

At least, if there be anything valid in my own 
vision of these things, we have returned to an 
origin and we are back in the war with the 
barbarians. It falls as naturally for me that the 
Englishman and the Frenchman should be on 
the same side as that Alfred and Abbo should be 
on the same side, in that black century when the 
barbarians wasted Wessex and besieged Paris. 
But there are now, perhaps, less certain tests of 
the spiritual as distinct from the material victory 
of civilization. Ideas are more mixed, are com- 
plicated by fine shades or covered by fine names. 
And whether the retreating savage leaves behind 
him the soul of savagery, like a sickness in the 

24.0 



CONCLUSION 

air, I myself should judge primarily by one 
political and moral test. The soul of savagery 
is slavery. Under all its mask of machinery and 
instruction, the German regimentation of the 
poor was the relapse of barbarians into slavery, 
I can see no escape from it for ourselves in the 
ruts of our present reforms, but only by doing 
what the mediaevals did after the other barbarian 
defeat : beginning, by guilds and small in- 
dependent groups, gradually to restore the per- 
sonal property of the poor and the personal 
freedom of the family. If the English really 
attempt that, the English have at least shown 
in the war, to any one who doubted it, that they 
have not lost the courage and capacity of their 
fathers, and can carry it through if they will. If 
they do not do so, if they continue to move only 
with the dead momentum of the social discipline 
which we learnt from Germany, there is nothing 
before us but what Mr. Belloc, the discoverer of 
this great sociological drift, has called the Servile 
State. And there are moods in which a man, 
considering that conclusion of our story, is half 
inclined to wish that the wave of Teutonic 
barbarism had washed out us and our armies 
together ; and that the world should never know 
anything more of the last of the English, except 
that they died for liberty. 

THE END 



241 



PRINTBD IN GREAT BRITAIN BY 

WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITEDj 

LONDON AND BECCLES. 



^ 



Ace. Mo 



273?? 



H Beck No. 

H